ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal judge on Friday rejected a request from Virginia Democrats who sought an injunction requiring the State Board of Elections to reinstate nearly 40,000 registered voters who were recently purged from the rolls.
County registrars conducted the purge recently on orders from the Republican-controlled elections board in Richmond, based on evidence from a multi-state database that the voters had subsequently registered in other states.
The Democratic Party of Virginia says the list used to conduct the purge was riddled with errors. At Friday’s hearing in U.S. District Court, the party argued that local officials were using different standards to determine whether a voter’s name should be purged, and the disparities violate requirements for uniformity that the U.S. Supreme Court outlined in its landmark 2000 Bush v. Gore decision.
Lawyer Marc Elias said local jurisdictions received a list of more than 57,000 voters currently registered in Virginia who had subsequently registered out of state. The registrars were told the list’s accuracy had been verified but they should use their “best judgment” in making the ultimate determination of whether to purge a voter.
Elias said some registrars took the list and purged everyone. At least one county registrar refused to purge anyone. Other counties made their own determination.
The process “leads to the weighing of some people’s votes and the discounting of others on a geographical basis,” Elias told Judge Claude Hilton.
Ultimately, according to the State Board of Elections, 38,870 names were removed, while 11,138 were kept on the rolls. Another 7,285 were left on the rolls but designated “inactive.” That technically preserves their eligibility but requires them to fill out extra paperwork to cast a ballot in next month’s elections, which features a high-profile gubernatorial race between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
The elections board says the fact that 11,000 voters were protected from the purge is proof it was carried out carefully. Democrats say it is evidence of how faulty the list was to begin with.
Elias said the hurried process, conducted just weeks before the election, runs the risks of disenfranchised voters, something that far outweighs what he said is the implausible notion that Virginians who moved out of state will trek back Virginia to vote illegally.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua Lief said that putting nearly 40,000 ineligible voters back on the rolls would dilute the legitimate votes cast by Virginia residents.
He said all registrars acted on the same standard — state law that requires registrars to consider a voter’s registration out of state as a request to cancel their Virginia registration.
The some registrars are keeping a few ineligible voters on the rolls in an abundance of caution, he said, is not justification for restoring all the registrations.
Hilton, in rejecting Democrats’ request, said he was satisfied that the counties were applying a uniform standard.
He also said granting an injunction requires Democrats to prove that there would be irreparable harm otherwise. Hilton said no such harm exists because anybody wrongly stricken can cast a provisional ballot.
After Friday’s hearing, the party’s executive director, Lauren Harmon, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal, and that Democrats will conduct outreach so that potentially affected voters know about their right to cast a provisional ballot, even though Democrats say provisional ballots are rarely counted.
The 58,000 names in question represent a little more than 1 percent of Virginia’s nearly 4.8 million registered voters.
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