Virginia’s State Board of Elections (SBE) has withdrawn a controversial proposal for revising voter registration forms in the face of widespread criticism by election officials and the public.
As explained on the political web site Bearing Drift by Brian Schoeneman, former secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, the proposal included “fundamental changes to the material omissions policies that are codified in Virginia law and that help to both prevent fraudulent voter registrations and to provide law enforcement with information they may need to prosecute registration fraud.”
The proposed changes would have eliminated the requirement that potential voters check boxes next to statements regarding their statuses as eligible American citizens and non-felons. Instead, they could simply sign a general statement at the bottom of the form attesting to their eligibility, saying that nothing disqualifies them from registering to vote.
SBE meetings are generally quiet affairs that draw little attention from the press or public, but last month’s meeting in Midlothian attracted a standing-room-only crowd and unrelentingly negative comments about the proposed changes in the form. Members of the General Assembly encouraged their constituents to attend the meeting and also to register their objections on line. (There were eventually 1,259 comments about the proposed regulatory changes.)
In an email message distributed to electoral boards and general registrars dated August 11, SBE chairman James Alcorn wrote: “As Chair of the Board, I have reviewed the public comments submitted regarding the voter registration application and associated regulations. (http://goo.gl/UqgvWg) In response to the substantive concerns raised, I am pulling the proposal from the Board’s September agenda.”
The proposal, Alcorn explained, “needs substantive work before the Board can review any potential changes and this issue requires more time for proper analysis. I am asking staff of the Department of Elections to work in a collaborative fashion with the broader elections community to develop any future changes to the voter registration application and associated regulations.”
Alcorn also explained the scope of the problem that the Board was trying to address:
“Since 2011, Virginia general registrars have denied over 100,000 voter registration applications due to missing information. A person’s ability to register to vote should be judged on their legal qualifications and not on their ability to complete an administrative form.”
That problem, he said, “persists and we should work together to make it easier for all qualified Virginians to participate in the electoral process.”
Alcorn invited electoral board members and registrars to submit their “ideas about how to address this issue that affects too many Virginians.”
Finally, the SBE chairman indicated that the proposal will be studied further to determine what action should be taken, if any.
“To facilitate this discussion,” Alcorn said, “I am asking the Department of Elections to conduct an analysis on the rejection of voter registration forms; to provide findings to the Board at a future meeting; and to release the data and findings via the Department’s website so it is easily accessible to all stakeholders.”
Revisions to the voter registration application form and other types of forms are probably inevitable. For instance, the absentee ballot application, which has become particularly unwieldy as more and more excuses are approved by the General Assembly, will eventually need to be changed. This is even more likely as such documents gravitate to on-line rather than paper forms.
If this decision by the SBE to halt the revision of the voter registration form shows anything, it is that when citizens and public officials raise objections loudly and voluminously, those criticisms are heard and heeded.