Lawsuit Filed To Stop Error-Riddled Virginia Voter Purge


Virginia State Board of Elections Secretary Don Palmer

Virginia State Board of Elections Secretary Don Palmer

After numerous Virginia city and county voter registrars noted a high error rate in lists of voters identified by the state board of elections as registered to vote in other states, the state Democratic party filed a federal lawsuit demanding an end to the purge effort on Tuesday.

In August, the Virginia State Board of Elections distributed to local elections about 57,000 names of voters it said had registered to vote in other states since their last registration or voting activity in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In instructions that followed several days later, Board Secretary Don Palmer told them to “use your best judgment” in deciding whether to remove those voters from their rolls. Multiple elections officials told ThinkProgress that they found a significant number of those, perhaps as high as ten percent, who were legitimate Virginia voters. Some had moved to other states and moved back, but the state board had incorrectly included them on their purge list.

Citing the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment and the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 Bush v. Gore ruling, the Democratic Party of Virginia requests an injunction to stop state and local officials from purging these names. The legal team representing the plaintiff includes Marc Elias, who served as lead counsel for Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) 2008 recount team and as general counsel for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign. The named defendants include Palmer and the other two officers of the State Board of Elections, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), in their official capacities.

The complaint notes the high error rates, the lack of any standards established for who should be removed other than the unilateral judgment of local officials, and the unequal treatment of voters improperly included on the list. Some local registrars, it notes, “are requiring wrongfully purged voters who come to vote on election day to submit provisional ballots, which means their votes may never be counted in the election,” while others have said they will allow those voters to complete regular ballots that will be counted on election day.

The Virginia elections are less than five weeks away. Some registrars are refusing to process the purge lists until after the November 5 elections are over, so as to focus their limited resources on ensuring a smoother 2013 election than the one Virginia endured in 2012.