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2016-10-12 / News

Senator takes on claims of voter registration fraud

By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


“We’re taking this very seriously. We need to get to the bottom of the issue and find out what’s true and what’s not.” – state Sen. Amanda Chase “We’re taking this very seriously. We need to get to the bottom of the issue and find out what’s true and what’s not.” – state Sen. Amanda Chase Following the release of a report by a third-party watchdog group that claims more than 1,000 non-citizens have illegally registered to vote in this year’s election, Republicans in the General Assembly plan to discuss the matter during a special Senate committee meeting on Oct. 13.

State Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier), chair of the Senate’s Privileges and Elections committee, noted last week during a guest spot on state Sen. Amanda Chase’s weekly radio show that committee members will “listen to testimony and figure out what we can do in the near term to address this.”

Chase was elected last year to represent the 11th District, which includes part of Chesterfield, Colonial Heights and Amelia. One of her committee assignments is Privileges and Elections – meaning she’ll be in the thick of the discussion about voter registration fraud and protecting the integrity of the upcoming election.

“We’re taking this very seriously,” Chase said. “We need to get to the bottom of the issue and find out what’s true and what’s not.”

The report, titled “Alien Invasion in Virginia,” was issued after a joint investigation by two nonprofits, the Public Interest Legal Foundation and the Virginia Voters Alliance. It alleges a sample of eight Virginia counties – including Chesterfield – revealed that 1,046 non-citizens had illegally registered to vote.

The groups also claim to have examined the voting histories of the non-citizen registrants and found they had cast nearly 200 verified ballots in prior elections before being removed from voting rolls.

“The problem is most certainly exponentially worse because we have no data regarding aliens on the registration rolls for the other 125 Virginia localities,” the report stated.

The 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which has come to be known as “Motor Voter,” expanded voting rights by compelling state governments to register anyone who applies for a new or renewed driver’s license and checks a box on the registration form affirming American citizenship.

The law also requires state and local officials to identify ineligible voters and remove them from their rolls.

Earlier this year, the Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Alexandria, stating that the city’s registrar had denied the Virginia Voters Alliance access to its voter records.

The groups said the registrar eventually relented and allowed them to inspect the records, which they claim showed hundreds of non-citizens who had been registered to vote.

They subsequently requested voter registration information from 19 other Virginia localities, including Chesterfield.

In the “Alien Invasion” report, Public Interest Legal Foundation and Virginia Voters Alliance alleged they were only able to amass data from eight jurisdictions because they were stonewalled by Edgardo Cortes, commissioner of the state Department of Elections.

“But the information from a few counties demonstrates a massive problem,” the report said.

County Registrar Larry Haake disagreed with their conclusions and said so last week on Chase’s radio program.

“Sometimes data is not all that it seems to be,” Haake said. “Nine and a half times out of 10, it’s a case of the person checking the wrong box on the [voter registration] application, but they are a citizen. It’s a far more sensational headline than what is actually happening.

“Some of these people have been registered to vote for 20 years. We’ll send them a letter saying you did this at the DMV. The general reaction is anger: ‘How dare you? I’ve been registered and voted my whole life.’ They get so mad they don’t send us the affirmation that they are a citizen.

“They end up being cancelled because they identify themselves as non-citizens.”

Haake acknowledged that his staff flags fraudulent voter registrations in every national election, but insisted that the vast majority are submitted by third-party “get out the vote” organizations.

Many such groups pay their employees a specific amount per every voter they register, Haake said, creating a financial incentive for those employees to submit fake applications.

One third-party organization, HarrisonburgVOTES, is currently under investigation following the August revelation that 19 dead people had been registered to vote there.

“That undermines the integrity of the entire process and frankly what democracy is meant to be,” Vogel said.

Haake told Chase she might be asked to sponsor a bill in the 2017 General Assembly introducing several deterrents to third-party voter registration fraud – among them, a legal prohibition on paying people to compile voter registration applications and elevating the penalty for such activity to a felony.

Haake also suggested third-party groups should be required to register with the Department of Elections and put their registration number on every voter application they submit.

“We definitely have some issues to work through,” Chase said.

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