Campaign Update

Op-Ed: More Voters than Residents, But Governor Vetoed Anyway

03/06/2017 | News |

Late last year, the Public Interest Legal Foundation presented what I took to be a surprising discovery. It reported that eight Virginia localities have more registered voters than voting age residents.

Voters should demand to know how that could be. After all, the national average of registered voters compared to voting age citizens is just shy of 80 percent — the total number of U.S. citizens 18 or older and those registered to vote. A registered voter rate of over 100 percent in eight localities clearly shows an obvious problem. Moreover, there are 23 additional Virginia localities where the number of registered voters exceeds 95 percent of the population of voting age adults. All this according to the census data just updated in June of 2016. Something is clearly wrong.

Are the census figures wrong? Are these counties just growing so rapidly that voters are flooding in faster than they can be counted? Are the voter rolls so neglected and out of date that they are filled with the names of voters who have long since moved or died? Or is it just some weird phenomenon that simply can’t be explained? Inquiring minds want to know.

While I might venture to guess, I really don’t know the answer to these questions. I do believe that the registrars in these eight counties should be asked to investigate and to offer a public explanation to the Virginia Department of Elections as to how they could possibly have more registered voters than voting age adults. This year, the General Assembly agreed, passing legislation (SB1105) requiring an inquiry and a public report of the findings.

On the way through the legislative process, a party line division developed, with General Assembly Democrats claiming that it would somehow expose voters “to the risk of improper disenfranchisement.” In fact, the governor vetoed the bill, parroting the same line in his veto message. The legislation, however, didn’t require a single voter to be removed from voter rolls. It simply called on these eight registrars to explain — if they could. Through this investigation and report, we might actually have learned something. We might have learned that the census figures are wrong; that the locality is growing extremely fast; or, perhaps, even that the voting rolls are a mess and need to be cleaned up.

What does the governor’s veto really say? It says that the governor doesn’t want to know — or want the rest of us to know — why there appear to be too many people on voting rolls in these localities.

The eight localities with more voters are the ones you’d expect; they’re some of the fastest growing areas in Virginia: Alexandria, Arlington, Loudoun County, Fairfax City and County, Falls Church and Manassas, with only James City County as the outlier. But the other 15 are all over the commonwealth: Surry County to Prince William to Rappahanock, Craig County, Chesterfield and New Kent, to name a few. This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. We’re seeing irregularities all over Virginia, in rural, urban and suburban areas.

Just last fall there was a highly publicized incident in which a paid operative working on a Democratic voter registration drive was caught filing registration forms for dead “would be voters” in Harrisonburg. He was caught when an alert worker in the registrar’s office recognized one name to be the deceased father of a local judge.

There may not be similar occurrences in the eight localities that appear to be over-registered, but the registrars there owe the voters some explanation. Our system of elections is built upon the premise that we are all committed to free, open and fair elections. Not free, open or fair. Both political parties must be committed to those principles. Where issues arise that undermine the confidence of voters in the fairness of our system, it places in peril the system as a whole.

When it comes to the fairness of our system of elections, there is no room for partisanship. When partisanship enters the equation, the voters should be suspicious. In this instance, their suspicions should be directed at those who do not want answers to reasonable questions about the integrity of our voter rolls.

Mark Obenshain represents the 26th District, Harrisonburg, in the Virginia Senate. Contact him at [email protected]

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