We often find that our voters here in Virginia are concerned when they hear information about election or voter registration practices in other states. Since several stories have been in the news lately, here are some facts about Virginia to set things straight.
Elected Election Administrators Running Their Own Elections
In most states, the Secretary of State is both a partisan elected position AND the person responsible for overseeing elections. This means that when the office of Secretary of State is on the ballot, the Secretary is responsible for his or her own election and may be perceived as promoting policies that may be politically beneficial to the incumbent. Similarly, in some counties in other states, an elected clerk or supervisor oversees elections.
Not so in Virginia. We do have a Secretary of the Commonwealth, but that position has no responsibility for election management. At the state level, the Governor appoints a three-member Board of Elections and a Commissioner of Elections. The Commissioner heads the Department of Elections, a state agency that falls under the Secretary of Administration, which, like all Virginia cabinet positions, is appointed, not elected.
A similar structure exists at the local level in Virginia, where each City or County has a three-member local Electoral Board, appointed by the Circuit Court. At the local level, the Electoral Board appoints a Director of Elections, who is the full-time administrator of the local office that oversees elections.
Georgia has recently been in the news because of a policy that requires an individual’s voter registration info to exactly match the person’s state DMV or Social Security information to verify validity. If there is a discrepancy, such as an initial instead of a middle name or a missing hyphen, the applicant’s record is placed in a “pending” status. The voter must then rectify the discrepancy before casting a ballot.
Virginia is not as restrictive. An individual with a Virginia DMV number can register to vote online, which does check the ID and Social Security information as a form of validation, but names do not have to exactly match, nor does the voter registration address have to match DMV data.
All applications that are processed manually are also run through a DMV check, mainly to verify Social Security numbers. If the application was submitted either by mail or through a third party and there is no DMV match, the record is flagged to require the voter to vote in person the first time they vote in Virginia, which only means they can’t request a ballot sent by mail except under specific circumstances (students, disabled, or military/overseas). This is seldom an issue for voters, since the large majority vote in person anyway, either in person absentee or at the polls on Election Day.
Some states have been in the news recently for removing voters from the rolls for inactivity or for not voting. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires states to perform regular data matches against the Postal Service’s National Change of Address (NCOA) system. If there is a discrepancy, the voter is sent a notice requesting updated address information. If the voter does not respond, the voter’s record is switched to an “inactive” status, and the state can remove the voter from the rolls after the second subsequent federal general election.
Some states include voters who have not voted within a given time period in these mailings. Although sometimes considered controversial, the courts have ruled that as long as these states comply with NVRA requirements, this practice is acceptable.
In Virginia, the Department of Elections runs an annual match against NCOA data, usually in late June or July. Local offices spend much of August updating voters who have returned their notices. If the notice is not returned within 30 days, the voter’s status is switched from active to inactive. That doesn’t necessarily mean the voter can’t vote in the next election; in most cases they can. The status is really a flag for poll workers to get the voter’s correct address so we can keep our rolls up-to-date. It does mean the voter will spend a little more time at the polls because they’ll need to fill out a form, however.
It’s a good guess that many of the voters who don’t respond to the notice and don’t show up to vote in the next election have moved from their registration address, very possibly to another state. We catch many of them through data-sharing processes with other states, but any inactive voter who has no interaction with us, either by updating their address or showing up to vote, does get removed from the rolls after the second federal general election following the mailing. So, after the November 2018 election — a federal general election — all voters made inactive in 2015 and 2016 will be removed from the rolls in Virginia.
This removal, or “NVRA purge,” typically occurs in January or February of odd-numbered years. Virginia NEVER conducts voter purges at any other time, although we do continuously perform routine data maintenance, removing voters who are no longer eligible because of felony convictions, mental incapacity adjudications, or death. We also remove voters who have registered in other states. All of this information comes to us from official sources.
You can read the Virginia Department of Elections’ annual report to the General Assembly on list maintenance for more information.
Posted October 22, 2018
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