Virginia Governor Vetoes “Election Integrity” Bill

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has vetoed an “election integrity” bill that would have required local election officials to prepare reports when there was a mismatch between population, registration and voting in their community. The Augusta Free Press has more:

Gov. Ralph Northam today vetoed legislation that would require local election officials to investigate lists of registered voters, citing the fact that Virginia already has significant measures in place to preserve the integrity of the Commonwealth’s voter rolls.

The legislation, authored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, requires local electoral boards to direct their general registrars to investigate lists of registered voters anytime the number exceeds the number of persons age 18 or older in that city or county, and would also require general registrars to investigate the lists of persons voting in an election when that number exceeds the number of registered voters in that city or county.

From Northam’s veto statement:

“This legislation is unnecessary and places onerous responsibilities on local election officials. Virginia already has robust list maintenance procedures in place. The list maintenance system is a complex process of cross-referencing voter registration across the United States to ensure that voters are not registered in more than one location. The Department of Elections already uses information from the United States Postal Service, the Social Security Administration, the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, and several other databases to ensure the maintenance of its voter lists.

“In addition, I have concerns about the implementation of this bill. This legislation would give general registrars investigative authority they currently do not have, but provides no government oversight for how they exercise that authority. This could lead to privacy issues and potential legal challenges for electoral boards, general registrars and localities.”

Obenshain offered this comment in response to the governor’s veto:

“I am disappointed that the Governor would veto a critical election integrity bill.  There is nothing in this bill that is an onerous burden on localities.  It only requires a report.  Through an investigation and report, we may actually learn something.  Perhaps the census figures are incorrect; or the locality is growing extremely fast, or maybe the voting rolls are a mess and need to be cleaned up.

“The integrity of our election system should be unquestioned. How can there be more registered voters in a locality than voting age adults?  Our system works only if voters have confidence that it is free, open and fair.  How can they have confidence if the voting rolls are so hopelessly out of date or clearly inaccurate?  They cannot.   I will continue to look for ways to strengthen the integrity of our electoral system here in the Commonwealth.”

In some ways, this “debate” is like the age-old discussion of whether to build a fence around the cliff or put an ambulance in the valley. List maintenance advocates argue that ongoing processes – including Virginia’s membership in ERIC – provide the assurance that voter registration lists are accurate and up-to-date. Integrity advocates believe that election data should square with other information like population figures and that any discrepancies should be investigated and resolved.

For now, the Governor’s veto preserves the status quo – but don’t be surprised if the debate is renewed once again very soon. Stay tuned …

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