With just two weeks remaining before voters go to polls to elect the state’s next governor, Virginia’s State Board of Elections is engaged in an ill-advised effort to purge voters from the registration rolls. While all agree that it is important that Virginia election officials maintain an up-to-date registration list, this hurried review undertaken immediately before a major statewide election is not the way to ensure a fair and appropriate election process. As history has shown us, when politicians purge lists this close to an election, mistakes invariably happen and valid citizens may be denied their right to vote. In an attempt to engage in list maintenance, Virginia is participating in a data-matching program known as the Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program (IVCP). The IVCP collects registration data from all participating states (including each voter’s full name, date of birth, address and, if provided, the last four digits of her or his Social Security number). The IVCP then attempts to match the records to identify any duplicates, and makes the results of this matching effort available to each participating state.
Arguably, the IVCP has potential for being a useful tool in ensuring accurate voter registration lists, since it provides a means for identifying individuals who may be registered to vote in more than one state (most typically because the individual has moved). However, when states use IVCP to determine whether particular voters should be purged, appropriate safeguards must be included in the purge process since computerized data-matching, by its nature, is notoriously unreliable. For example, data entry errors, similar-sounding names and changing information can all produce false matches. Yet when it comes to proceeding cautiously in using IVCP, Virginia election officials have a failing grade.
Based on IVCP, Virginia is poised to purge up to 57,000 registered voters. The State Board of Elections distributed the IVCP list to local registrars with instructions that, while review is encouraged, a voter’s appearance on the list should be treated as a request by the voter to be deleted from Virginia’s registration rolls and as a sufficient basis for purging the individual. Local registrars are not being required to mail notices to the identified voters to provide them with an opportunity to confirm the information or correct any error. This is a recipe for trouble.
This complete lack of safeguards and process for appeal will inevitably lead to the removal of qualified registered voters who in fact reside in Virginia. For example, the Chesterfield County registrar discovered that 174 people identified by IVCP as being registered both in Virginia and another state had actually registered in Virginia more recently than the other state. This is nearly a 20 percent error rate, which prompted the registrar to postpone using the IVCP list until after the November election when the list may be given a thorough review. The Loudoun County registrar also thought it unwise to purge voters in this manner so close to an election and proposed to delay action until after November.