Election Fraud is a critically important topic that is increasingly being discussed in Virginia as well as around the United States. Are our elections being stolen by election fraud? Is the will of the electorate being subverted by lax election laws, corrupt election officials, non-citizens voting, poorly-maintained voter registration rolls, etc.?
The list could go on – there are numerous ways in which elections can be affected. The most relevant question for us must be – can it happen here in Virginia, in my county or even in my precinct? As we begin this Presidential year with the Presidential primary on March 1, general party primaries on June 14 and the Presidential election on November 8, it is time to assess where we are in Virginia, what are our vulnerabilities and what we can do to correct or remove our deficiencies.
For several years I have closely examined our election laws, actual implementation practices and how we compare to other states. I have concluded that:
While Virginia does have some significant deficiencies which will be discussed, we are relatively fortunate to live in Virginia where the law and the actual election practice limit the opportunities for Election Fraud. Having said this, we cannot become complacent and accept the status quo. We must continue to work to eliminate the deficiencies but there is much that each of us can do to participate within the current environment to minimize Election Fraud.
First, let me explain why I make the statement that we are “relatively” fortunate to live in Virginia. While my experience is largely within Fairfax County, I believe my conclusions are generally applicable throughout Virginia. Our election laws and the actual implementation of these laws preclude Virginia from having some of the election fraud situations that may occur in other states:
• Virginia DOES NOT have same-day registration/voting. By law, we avoid the problem some states have by not allowing a person to register to vote on Election Day and immediately being allowed to vote that same day in that election. Virginia law has a registration cut-off date for voting in an upcoming election. The voter lists are frozen several weeks before an election so a last- minute rush of registrants (fraudulent ??) is not possible. In mail-in absentee voting, a person can submit a voter registration form and an application for an absentee application at the same time but the law requires a five-day waiting period for the registration to be researched before a live absentee ballot is mailed out to the new voter.
• Virginia uses provisional voting effectively. If a person comes to vote on Election Day and their eligibility to vote is questioned (lack of a valid photo ID, name not on voter lists, evidence of already having voted, voting on Election Day despite having been issued an absentee ballot, etc.), Federal law mandates that the voter be allowed to vote a Provisional Ballot which IS NOT counted on Election Day. The provisional ballot situation is researched and the local Electoral Board adjudicates the vote (accept or reject) usually on the Friday after the election. As the Republican observer at the Electoral Board adjudication meeting in Fairfax County, I am comfortable in saying that the process is carried out honestly and fairly – those who are eligible to vote will have their votes cast by the Electoral Board and those not eligible will have their votes discarded.
• Virginia has an strong photo ID requirement for voting. The law clearly states that a valid photo ID is required to be able to vote (see the exception below) and clearly describes what is a “valid ID”. Every year the Democrats in the General Assembly attempt to expand the meaning of a valid ID but these have been generally rejected. National Democrat groups, using Suppressing the Vote rhetoric, have challenged similar laws in court so the issue is in flux.
• Absentee voting requires a reason. Unlike many states with so-called Early Voting, absentee voting in Virginia means that a person who, with a valid reason, is unable to go to their polling place on Election Day (hence “absentee”) will be allowed to cast an absentee ballot. It must be acknowledged that some people lie about their reason just to be able to vote early but generally absentee voting is limited. Every year the Democrats in the General Assembly attempt to eliminate the “reason” requirement or to exempt certain groups of people but these efforts have been rebuffed.
• Election Officer training. By law, Election Officers must be appointed (subject to the approval of the respective political parties) and undergo training before they can be assigned to a polling place. This training, of course, does not necessarily provide the Election Officer with all of knowledge needed but the SBE does supplement this training with effective What If documents and other materials to guide them. This year the General Assembly is progressing a number of initiatives to require more thorough and more frequent election officer training.
• Voting equipment. By law, only paper ballot scanning equipment may be purchased for use in Virginia. This provides a clean paper trail for election challenges/recounts. Touch screen machines (with inherent fraud concerns) have been virtually eliminated. In addition, the law requires each jurisdiction to maintain and thoroughly test their equipment before each election in which they will be used. The testing consists of controlled actual voting to ensure the counting is correct and performing general reliability checking..
• The Canvass on Wednesday after the election. Election Day is a long, often 16 hour working day for the Election Officers. Human errors in counting and transcribing results can be made. The Canvass is mandated by law to review the accounting of each of the precinct results submitted on Election Day night and to correct any errors that may have been made. Last year the SBE approved a greatly simplified Statement of Results (SOR) form used to report results.
• Pollwatching. The law allows up to three observers from each Party and independent candidate to be officially inside the polling place. Our purpose for assigning pollwatchers is to have an additional set of eyes to ascertain that the election is being conducted honestly and fairly and that partisan activities are not occurring. Fairfax County and other jurisdictions have pollwatcher training and materials which have proven to be effective.
Now, let me point out some of our most blatant deficiencies and what is being done to eliminate them. I will highlight several of the most important deficiencies although there are others:
• Voter registration. Virginia does not require proof of US Citizenship to register to vote. A checkbox (Yes/No) on the registration form is all that is required which is really no check whatsoever. Last year, the Democrat-controlled Virginia SBE attempted to even remove this checkbox but, as many of you may recall, the voice of the people arose through submissions to the Virginia Regulatory Town Hall (bulletin board) against this proposal which was withdrawn by the SBE. Legislation is currently pending in our current General Assembly Session to require the checkbox to remain. But, of course, the solution is not a checkbox but legislation to simply require proof of citizenship to register to vote. Our General Assembly has attempted to pass such legislation but it has always failed and this year, if tested, would be vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. The Democrats and their allies across the country have challenged this law in other states as “Suppressing the Vote” and we in Virginia will have to wait until these challenges are resolved in court.
• Maintenance of voter lists. Virginia law has numerous sections requiring a periodic review of the voter lists to ensure that deceased persons, convicted felons and those legally declared mentally incompetent are removed from the rolls. Unfortunately, there appears to be an inconsistent application of these requirements. Furthermore, the major problem is not from those who by law are not allowed to vote but from the “deadwood” that accumulates when people move out-of-state from a precinct and their name is never (or very belatedly) removed and even then there is a several year process required before a name can actually be removed. Groups such as the Virginia Voters Alliance (Reagan George) have been in the forefront of efforts to change this by comparing voting lists in neighboring states to the Virginia lists using full name/birthdates. Large numbers of the same voters were found in Maryland and Virginia and some were found to have illegally voted in the same election in both states. It has, however, proven difficult to convince the SBE that these finding are a valid cause to remove names from the lists. Fortunately, there has been increased activity in state-to-state CrossCheck programs where the state elections officials in the respective states make the list comparisons. A secondary but important problem is the reluctance of law enforcement officials and Commonwealth Attorneys to prosecute where the law is clearly violated (why, you might ask but it is true). If there is reluctance to prosecute, of course there is “no evidence of voter fraud.”
• Absentee voting. Virginia law requires a valid picture ID to be presented to be able to vote, whether it be in a primary or general election or in-person or absentee voting. However, those who vote absentee by mail are ignored by the law. In this situation, the voter is never seen by any election officer and thus, by default, has no requirement to show a valid picture ID. They can submit an absentee ballot application and receive an absentee ballot to be voted without proving their identity. Further, recent rulings by the SBE allow electronic (on-line) submission of absentee applications with an electronic signature which is nothing more than typing one’s name into an input form slot. This is an absurd interpretation of Virginia’s electronic signature law which states that they are acceptable under certain conditions. I was personally told at an SBE meeting that I was suppressing the vote by advocating real voter identification (ID and signature) for mail-in absentee voting. This issue is being addressed in the current General Assembly session but success is not guaranteed.
• Partisan or inadequately trained or lazy Election Officers. As stated earlier, Election Officers may be approved by their respective party (allowed by the law) and are required to attend training classes. However, none of this precludes an Election Officer from taking – either willfully or inadvertently – actions that harm the impartiality of the polling place. There is little legislation that can change this reality. However, as a best practice, the Fairfax County Electoral Board allows the two parties to vet Election Officer candidates (are they really Republicans?) before they can be appointed. Pollwatchers have the legal right to escalate observed problems to their party and to the local Electoral Board. Outside partisan pollworkers may talk with voters, find out if something is wrong inside the polling place and inform their party who can take actions to escalate the problem. Local Electoral Boards will listen and take action against offending Election Officers if documented complaints are made. I personally had a Chief Election Officer dropped from the approved list after I observed her taking wrong actions. They were not partisan issues but actions counter to the law.
The good news is that we have in place pretty good Election Laws and implement them in a manner which minimizes the opportunity for fraud. We have Republican control of the two General Assembly bodies and remedial legislation is possible to improve our laws. The bad news is that Election Fraud still exists in Virginia. Further, we have a Democrat Governor who is tone-deaf to approving meaningful changes. The best news we have is that we personally are able to assist in this fight against voter fraud. Getting involved as an Election Officer or a pollwatcher or a pollworker or lobbying for remedial legislation are some of the things we can do.