by Student Contributor
They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In this case, it’s another man’s voter registration form. A month before the presidential election of 2012, a store owner saw a man throw a trash bag into the store’s recycling bin. Upon investigating, the store owner discovered that the man had thrown away several completed voter registration forms. The man was a contractor with the Republican Party helping to register voters in Virginia. The contractor was charged with thirteen counts of destruction of voter registration applications, disclosure of voter registration information, and obstruction of justice.
In January 2013, SB1008 proposed some changes to the process of registering voters. A State Board of Elections (SBE) representative commented that the contractor incident “was referenced during committee meetings where SB1008 was discussed. The law was passed in hopes of avoiding a reoccurrence of such actions.” The reaction to the contractor incident was strong because of a previous issue where the Voter Participation Center used a vendor mailing list to send out voter registration forms that were pre-populated with some of the prospective registrant’s information. However, the mailing list included names of family pets and deceased family members. It was eventually determined that the problem was with the list and not a case of fraud or criminal activity.
Although amending the law on registering voters seemed like a positive move to the legislature, the League of Women Voters of Virginia and Project Vote raised some concerns. In a press release by the League before the bill was signed into law, the League asked for support for a letter it sent to Governor Bob McDonnell to veto SB1008 because of the bill’s perceived “disastrous impact on community voter registration drives” in Virginia. Because community voter registration drives reach out to underrepresented populations such as minorities and low-income citizens, the bill was thought to make it harder to reach these groups due to “unnecessary burdens” on voter registration drives. The League commented that it feared that the law might result in a situation similar to that in Florida, where the implementation of Florida League’s third party registration legislation proved so onerous that the LWV halted its third party voter registration activities there.
The League citied three main problems with the bill in the press release.
- SB 1008 requires any individual or group that obtains 25 or more voter registration applications to file paperwork with the State Board, but does not specify the content required to fulfill this obligation.
- The bill requires any such individual or group to receive formal training approved by the State Board, but sets no parameters as to where, when, and how such training must be offered. This requirement could effectively shut down drives if training is not made easily and frequently accessible.
- Finally, the bill reduces submission deadlines for applications from 15 days to 10 days after completion, providing large drives insufficient time to conduct the vital quality control procedures that actually prevent the submission of fraudulent, incomplete, or erroneous applications.
The SBE is confident that all perceived problems have since been remedied. Those who request 25 or more voter registration applications must fill out a form that is easily accessible on the SBE’s website. Trainings seem to be accessible and frequent. The SBE has conducted five in-person trainings and has made the training available online. Furthermore, local Voter Registration Offices provided in-person Voter Registration Training. In addition, the SBE has not heard of any issues with the ten day application submission rule.
Ms. Therese Martin, Voter Advocacy Coordinator for the Virginia League, believes that the League’s and Project Vote’s oversight and suggested amendments resulted in a better product and eased most of their fears. The League kept in touch with the SBE throughout the development of the implementing forms, training, and regulations after the bill was passed into law. Both the League and Project Vote reviewed drafts of materials, communicated with SBE staff during the drafting state and made statements at SBE meetings.
According to Ms. Martin, “we have no evidence that the legislation has, in itself, had a negative effect on our voter registration activities or has been, overall, discriminatory in nature. While the legislation has probably had a chilling effect on some registration activities, our problems with the implementation have been due more to implementation delays and technical ‘glitches.’” The League continues to monitor the situation.
So whatever happened to the contractor? As it turns out, a judge dropped all charges against him. He argued that he made a mistake and his actions were not purposeful.
At the end of the day, because of the attention given by citizen organizations during the legislation’s implementation process, the invaluable right to vote, in this instance, was treated as treasure and not trash.