By Claire G. Gastañaga, Executive DirectorBecause of the state’s new voter ID law, Governor Bob McDonnell issued Executive Order No. 45 requiring the State Board of Elections (SBE) to issue new voter registration cards to Virginia voters to ensure all voters had a free, acceptable form of identification to use at the polls.
In that same executive order, the Governor also directed SBE to launch a public education campaign to inform voters about the changes to the state’s voter ID requirements. Both the process for issuing the new registration cards and the public education program are flawed, however.
This week active registered voters began receiving these cards in the mail, but nearly half a million "inactive" voters won't be receiving the cards or any other information from SBE. SBE places voters on the “inactive” list when voters fail to respond to mailings asking them to confirm or update their contact information.
SBE regularly checks its voter rolls against the National Change of Address Database and when alerted that a voter may have moved, a confirmation notice is sent. What exactly a voter receives, however, depends on where the voter used to live and where the voter now resides.
When voters move within the same locality, the voters’ registration information is automatically updated and notice is sent to voters at their new address to confirm the change. If voters fail to return the confirmation within thirty days, SBE moves them to the inactive list.
When voters move to a new county or city, the Board mails a notice to the voter at their old address asking them to return the card with the voter’s new address, even though SBE knows the new address. If voters fail to update their contact information within thirty days, the registrar marks them as inactive voters.
As a result, voters in densely populated areas where jurisdictional lines are less significant barriers to cross in a move are more likely to end up on the inactive voter list thereby receiving neither the new voter registration card nor any education materials about the new voter ID law. And, data show that the inactive voters who won’t be getting the new information are more likely to be younger voters.
Now, about SBE’s public education program…
Included in the information SBE sent out with the new voter registration cards is an incomplete list of acceptable IDs that leaves the false impression that a photo ID is required to vote. (In case you didn’t know, photo ID is NOT required to vote.)
The IDs provided as examples were the attached new voter registration card; a valid driver’s license or ID; an ID issued by the federal, state or local government; a valid employee ID card with a photograph; and a concealed handgun permit. The information then refers recipients to SBE’s website for other acceptable forms of ID, such as a current utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck stub with the address of the voter, or student ID issued by an institution of higher education in Virginia.
Of course, given the “digital divide” that continues to exist in Virginia, the voters who are most likely to need to know that they can use their bank statements or other non-photo IDs are the least likely to have access to the computer needed to find out that they are acceptable.
The printed materials aren’t the only instance in which SBE appears to be providing an incomplete and, therefore, misleading list of acceptable IDs. We viewed a PSA broadcast recently at Norfolk State University that failed to mention the new voter ID law and identifies only three forms of acceptable identification, all of which are photo IDs.
Is it coincidence which forms of ID SBE chose to include in its public education materials?
We've met with and corresponded with SBE about these concerns and will continue to work to ensure that voters receive complete and accurate information. But, given the number of times these issues have been brought to the State Board's attention, we're compelled to consider that the problem with the informational materials provided to voters is not a coincidence.
Know your voters’ rights at the polls: https://acluva.org/let-me-vote-2012/