Despite an appeal from Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, Virginia’s board of elections won’t seek an investigation of an organization that mailed voter registration forms to individuals who are ineligible to vote and, in some cases, to household pets.
Romney’s campaign had urged the state board of elections to ask for an investigation of The Voter Participation Center, a Washington-based nonprofit that focuses on increasing voter participation by unmarried women, minorities and younger citizens. State elections officials received hundreds of complaints after the organization addressed some Virginia voter registration applications to children, deceased residents and even some dogs and cats.
Romney’s campaign said the mass mailing raised questions about the validity registration applications mailed by VPC, noting that the organization also filled in names and addresses on voter registration forms it sent to 197,000 Virginians.
VPC representatives said the organization relied on a commercial mailing list to reach unregistered voters, and that it “pre-populated” name and address information to reduce entry errors and encourage more people to submit the forms. The group said it has helped 16,000 Virginians register to vote this year.
The organization also said it relies on a vendor for a list of registered voters in an effort to avoid mailing forms to individuals who already are registered to vote.
In a meeting this morning, the three-member state board of elections voiced concerns over the number of complaints and the confusion generated by the organization’s mailings. But the board opted not to request a criminal investigation of the flap, saying local registrars can determine whether or not an individual is eligible to vote when processing an application.
“The Romney campaign [and]all citizens of the commonwealth should be confident that their general registrars will be able to identify ineligible voters,” said Donald Palmer, the secretary of the state board of elections.
At the request of the board, the VPC said it no longer will fill out name and address information on the registration forms it sends to Virginians. A Romney spokeswoman said that represents a positive step.
“The Voter Participation Center has already admitted its misconduct, and we are glad that the state board of elections quickly convened a meeting on the issue,” said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “Even in the absence of a formal investigation, we are heartened that the group is being forced to stop mailing misleading, pre-populated voter registration forms in Virginia.”
VPC attorney Scott Thomas said the state should process all voter registration applications equally and not treat those mailed by VPC differently.
Thomas, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said each of the organization’s planned mailings is provided to the state board for review. He noted that the voter registration form “makes very clear who is ineligible to register, specifies that persons who are not citizens or who are too young must not complete the form, and requires information about any felony convictions.”
Thomas said the organization shared the board’s concerns about forms mailed to individuals who were deceased, ineligible to vote, already registered, or “not real people.”
“VPC relies on commercial vendors to develop the list of persons who appear to be unregistered but eligible voters,” Thomas said. “And, though VPC and its vendor go to great lengths to perfect the list, the reality is that an error-free list simply does not exist.”
The board held a lengthy hearing on the issue before deciding not to take any action. Carmen Taylor, the vice president of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, said her organization is partnering with the VPC to send registration forms to potentially eligible voters. Taylor said the NAACP is stepping up its outreach and education efforts this year, partly because of a new state voter identification law that could be in effect for the November elections.
“We recognize this challenge to question or invalidate out voter registration initiatives for what it is – the latest attempt to stifle the voices of Virginia voters,” Taylor said.
– Michael Sluss