400 voter “irregularities”

Brent Finnegan -- October 15th, 2008

Last month I wrote about Virginia registrars giving new registrants controversial warnings. Now that the registration deadline has come and gone, a new concern has arisen: the rejection of voter registration forms.

It seems that today, TV3 picked up on a column by JG Fitzgerald published by Augusta Free Press yesterday, in which he wrote:

[A] ream of letters [was sent to Harrisonburg] voters telling them of unspecified “irregularities” in their applications to vote. Many voters, mostly JMU students, called the registrar’s office to ask about the alleged “irregularities,” only to be told their forms couldn’t be found among the hundreds in the office […]

[SBE] numbers suggest that almost 18 percent of new registrations in the city were rejected, but it does not reflect the 500 forms the registrar reported receiving just on the final day, nor does it reflect any that may have been rejected from that group. Adding to the confusion, it is not clear if those who received the “irregularities” letter have since been officially rejected.

In today’s TV3 story, John Simmers, Chairman of the local Board of Elections, said that they have tried to “track down and fix” the 400 people in Harrisonburg who have received the letters.

“We’ve tried to get the students to come in, let us adjust this. Let us help you fill out your form. We have not intended to be obstructionist in any manner.”

[…] they’re encouraging people who received the letter to go to the registrar’s office to fix the problems with their applications. The problems include incomplete forms or inconsistencies with an address.

For my part, I have tried unsuccessfully to track down some of the voters who received the letter, in order to try to understand what went wrong and why. I will keep trying.

34 Responses to “400 voter “irregularities””

  1. chrisfb says:

    I received a rejection letter last Wednesday because I messed up a single word in my mailing address. I went to the registrar the same day to inquire about the situation and she pretty much just turned me away; saying that I could register again but for the next election.

    The Obama campaign is currently assisting me in petitioning the denial.

    Hopefully it will all work out, but this has been one huge hassle.

  2. finnegan says:

    That’s incredible and disappointing, Chris, but not necessarily surprising. Here’s another excerpt from Fitzgerald’s letter:

    The voters were not told what the “irregularities” were, and the voters themselves were not named on the letters. The letters were photocopied and sent to voters without any further information. An election official said Monday there were fewer than 100 of the letters, but the State Board of Elections released a list showing almost four times that many voters rejected in Harrisonburg as of several days before the final registration rush began.

    The same election official, asked Monday for assistance from a woman whose daughter had been rejected, held out a copy of the state voting laws, several hundred pages thick, and said, “It’s in there.”

    The voters may appeal their rejections to the Circuit Court, but at least one has been told the case would have to be heard in Winchester.

    When I spoke to Debbie Logan last month, she refused to show me the flier they had been handing out to registrants, even though they were still visible, sitting in a stack behind the front desk.

  3. Renee says:

    Wow, this is really messed up. I’ve also heard some people received no notification either way yet saying whether their registrations were accepted or rejected.

    @chrisfb: “she pretty much just turned me away; saying that I could register again but for the next election”

    That’s horrible… there has to be some way for people to correct mistakes made on their applications that were turned in before the deadline. Let us know how it turns out!

  4. finnegan says:

    If you look at the results for the 2004 City Council election, several of those are within a 400 point spread.

    Granted, voter turnout this November 4 will be higher, but we’re talking about the future of Harrisonburg here.

  5. Karl says:

    “We’re talking about the future of Harrisonburg here.” You want the 400-people that couldn’t properly fill out a registration application involved? It’s not rocket science, it’s a simple form. How about a second glance at the old homework assignment before we turn it in?

    I’m sure someone here will connect all the dots and explain the huge conspiracy to me. Until then I can easily accept a form letter was sent out and not individual Valentine’s. Good grief.

  6. NewHburger says:

    Amen, Karl. Finally, the voice of reason. After a 15-year career in politics, I can tell you that the folks at the board of elections have a thankless job. They’re damned if the do and damned if they don’t. Because some boneheads can’t fill out a form there is all of a sudden a conspiracy? Give me a break!

  7. Older Hburger says:

    but but but…if Joe said it then it must be gospel. Karl, watch out, Big Brother will get you fired…or at least they think they can.

  8. chrisfb says:

    I understand I made a mistake, but in no way should something like this infringe on my right to vote.

  9. Christa says:

    Why didn’t you start the process of registering to vote earlier Chris? Why wait until the last minute?

  10. Renee says:

    I don’t think it matters when a person registers to vote or why. I don’t think it’s a big deal when people make minor mistakes on their application form (though I do understand the burden on the registrar, which is why I suggested to someone earlier that they get volunteers involved in calling those with errors on their forms, or helping ease the burden somehow, so they can re-submit and properly register).

    Voting is such an important right in this country, I think we need to do all we can to protect it and to help people properly register to vote, and to get to the polls on election day. Like it or not, everyone is affected by who is elected into public office, so no matter how “responsible” they are or aren’t in your eyes, they have a right to cast a ballot on election day.

    The ones to me that have no right to complain are the people that don’t even try to register to vote.

  11. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    Who said anything about a conspiracy? But you know, Karl and NewHburger, any voter drive in town that registered 400 people would be considered a wild success, so preserving the rights of 400 people to vote should be considered just as important as getting them to register in the first place.

    What troubles me about this report is that people aren’t being told WHY their registrations were rejected, and were not informed in a timely enough manner to do anything about it before the deadline for correcting their registration passed.

  12. finnegan says:

    I turned in my change of address to the registrar the Friday before the Monday deadline. Should I not be allowed to vote?

  13. Renee says:

    Is it really past the deadline for fixes? Is there no opportunity for minor typo adjustments on registrations that got in on time?

  14. Renee says:

    If not… they need to advertise along with the registration deadline something like “it make take 7-10 days to process the registration forms, so get your form in at least a week before the deadline to make sure you can still register if there are any minor issues with your form” or something to communicate to people that they won’t have a “2nd chance”. But I hope the law allows the registrar to call those attempting to register to make minor fixes if needed…

  15. Renee says:

    @finnegan…. i was thinking the same thing.

    It’s like saying the hundreds of people in every town that pay their taxes at the last possible minute shouldn’t be eligible to receive the benefits those taxes provide.

    Or a student that turns in a senior project on the day it’s due doesn’t have as much of a right to graduate as someone that turned it in a week earlier.

    If you get something in by the deadline, who cares if it’s at the last minute?

    I agree that people should be very careful not to make mistakes on these types of forms, but hey, it happens, and it shouldn’t prevent them from being able to vote. I would think that’s why the registration deadline is way before the election, so there’s time to check and process all of those forms, right? Otherwise, you could register on election day.

    I really hope this all gets worked out and everyone that tried to register gets a chance to cast their vote in November.

  16. finnegan says:

    This may be slightly off topic, but:

    … One newspaper reporter said he did not cover the story because it had been covered on a blog, hburgnews, and he didn’t want to steal someone else’s story.

    Since when has a news story been the purview of one reporter or news organization? That’s nonsense (to put it nicely).

    hburgnews has hundreds of readers. The DNR has thousands. My post about suppression last month garnered almost a hundred comments. Don’t tell me there’s no community interest.

    Assuming that comment is about the DNR, they clearly need more curious reporters.

  17. Renee says:

    Haha seriously. You’d think if he saw it covered here and generating discussion, he would’ve made sure the newspaper had it covered, too. What it means to me is that he was too lazy to look into it himself, and any article he wrote about it would’ve probably been a paraphrase of what you wrote.

    Either that, or he didn’t see it as an important topic to cover, which makes me wonder about what other stories aren’t being covered by the paper… it’s no wonder blogs like this are so successful and papers are going downhill when we have reporters like you and they have reporters like that guy! ;)

  18. finnegan says:

    Instead, they went with this story, which is confusing. It “debunks rumors” about students’ votes not counting, but doesn’t address the issue of registrants being warned that it may affect tax/tuition status. Instead, it includes this:

    Speaking of the College Democrats’ effort, McKinney said, “We are encouraging people to register in Harrisonburg. It makes it easier for the student to vote.

    No, apparently it doesn’t.

    In fact, the only thing I’ve seen from the DNR on this was an editorial which falsely claimed that “the repercussions may come from [a JMU student] declaring himself a Virginian for voting purposes are unknown.”

  19. Emmy says:

    Wow! I didn’t realize we had perfect people here in Harrisonburg who’ve never made a mistake while filling out a form. I could see how someone moving from a 22801 to a 22802 zip code could make a mistake by putting their old zip code and then have their registration rejected. Well, sorry, guess you’re too dumb to vote this year.

    There are a number of ways you could make a mistake on your form that don’t equal you being stupid and if your form is rejected you have a right to know why. I don’t think its a conspiracy to keep people from voting, I think its someone who doesn’t want to handle more paperwork and probably doesn’t care for their job.

  20. David Miller says:

    This is unacceptable. Ohio, Florida now VA. Hell no. If we value a democratic ideal, if you’re a true citizen then this is unacceptable. If you’re not, then feel free to tell people that they deserve to have their vote stolen because of a typo then please feel free to expunge your hateful nature upon us.

  21. Mike says:

    Not all of the mistakes on registrations are the fault of voters not checking what they wrote.

    I changed my registered address in late September, but never received my voter card. On deadline day, I checked the state website for my registered address, and it was wrong. I had registered at #1226 on my street, but the voter registration office registered me at #1276. And I know it was their fault, because I have the photocopy of my registration form!

    When I spoke to the registration office, I was told, essentially, tough luck. My only option was to come back in to the office and fill out another form. Good thing I was able to get off work an hour early that day.

    So don’t assume it’s all the voter’s fault when these things get screwed up. Because even if it’s the registration office’s fault, it’s the voter’s problem.

  22. linz says:

    @chrisfb: “she pretty much just turned me away; saying that I could register again but for the next election”

    People have fought too hard for the right to vote for it to be brushed off so lightly. Since when has being able to successfully spell, proofread, or even read/write, been a requirement for voting? I understand that accuracy is important, especially for entering and verifying info in the voter databse, but every effort should be made to make sure people get to exercise their right to vote.

    And for those who don’t want “dumb” people voting anyway, what about “Joe Six Pack?” That doesn’t exactly bring up the image of a rocket scientist in my mind, even though there will be those who disagree, which is fine. Many an election has been impacted by a voter base that wasn’t highly educated.

    I’m sure the registrar’s office is working very hard and is probably overwhelmed right now, but we still have almost three weeks to fix typos or whatever else needs to be corrected and do something about it! If they want to recruit help to free them up to do that, sign me up.

  23. JGFitzgerald says:


    The word “conspiracy” was yours. These were my words: “The campaign has gone on long enough, and in enough ways, to make it a fair question to ask.”

    Obviously it would be better if the media asked these questions instead of dismissing them. That’s the same attitude voters got from the Registrar’s Office.

  24. voter says:

    Again the question is why not give explanations? Why nit-pick. Why is this a problem in Harrisonburg but not Rockingham County? With city elections on Nov. 4, who would be most concerned about an increase in student voting? If students vote straight party who will likely suffer in the local elections? How are the candidates that stand to lose from increased student voting connected to the Board members and the Registrar? These are question whose answers may shed light on the whys and hows.

  25. David Miller says:

    Maybe we could get some answers and some fixes to these major problems instead of being left to speculate.

  26. David Miller says:

    btw, thanks JG and Finn for actually doing investigative reporting. Its nice to see. I miss Dave Reynolds, he’d a been all over this shit.

  27. Bubby says:

    What happens if you misspell your name on your registration, but you register as a Republican, and support John McCain? You become Joe The Plumber, voice of the American Voter

    …even if you owe the State of Ohio $1,200 in back taxes.

  28. seth says:

    with the concerns over registration validity in some other places right now, i can understand why the registrar’s office might proceed with caution on applications w/ inconcistencies (although if it’s their mistake they should definitely correct it ASAP. good looking out on making that photocopy). i’d think it would be easy enough to implement some sort of provisional voting system where they would either get things straightened out before the election or else hold questionable ballots that came in until they were able to either authenticate them or demonstrate that they were invalid.

  29. Emmy says:

    Thanks for that Bubby. I wish I could tell you how that made my day!

  30. Jeremy Aldrich says:

    My favorite part of the “Joe the Plumber” segment of the debate was when McCain tried to nail down Obama on how much in fines Joe would have to pay if he didn’t offer health insurance to his employees, and Obama said “zero” because that part of his proposal only applies to large businesses, then McCain tried to change the scenario so that Joe owned some kind of giant plumbing empire.

    Will McCain be able to restore his credibility after the election is over? I hope so; he’s had many years of service as a statesman. This campaign has changed him so much.

  31. JGFitzgerald says:

    His name couldn’t have been Jack? Bob? Aloysius?

  32. Del says:

    Looks like his first name is actual Sam if that’s any consolation:)

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