As Election Day Approaches

Polling stations, Robious Elementary School, Chesterfield County. Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

For most Virginians, this election season has been fairly quiet. In only three of the 11 Congressional districts has there been anything close to a contested election. Some local offices are on the ballot. Here and there is a bond referendum.

There have been two major election issues in the news that have statewide implications. One was the formation of an Elections Integrity Unit in his office by Attorney General Jason Miyares. In September, Miyares issued a news release boldly announcing the “creation” of what he termed “a new unit” that would help “restore confidence in our democratic process in the Commonwealth.” In the face of criticism, he later backed off the concept of it being something new. In an op-ed piece in The Washington Post he explained, “The Election Integrity Unit is simply a restructuring of lawyers, paralegals, and investigators already employed by my office and working on election matters.” In other words, it was just an office reorganization, similar to what all incoming AGs do. If that is all that it was, one wonders why the move merited a full-blown news release.

The other news has to do with the snafus in the computer system of the Department of Elections. Twice, the agency has had to announce that, due to “glitches” in the system, it has not picked up in a timely fashion new voter registrations and changes in registration (i.e. address changes) recorded by the Department of Motor Vehicles and forwarded to the Dept. of Elections. The first announcement, in early October, involved 107,000 records that were suddenly dumped on local registrars to process. (See the Bacon’s Rebellion article on this development here.) The second announcement was reported earlier this week by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Two weeks before Election Day, the Department of Elections was sending local registrars an additional 149,000 voter registration forms that it had discovered in its system, which local registrars would have a week to process.

There is a third statewide major election issue, which happens to be a major change in Virginia law, that has gotten scant attention in the news media — same-day registration. Effective October 1 of this year, anyone qualified to register may register “in person up to and including the day of the election at the office of the general registrar … or at the polling place for the precinct in which such person resides.”

The legislation making this change was enacted by the 2020 General Assembly.  However, the legislators wisely delayed the effective date for two years to give the Department of Elections and local registrars time to develop procedures for implementing the change and an opportunity to try them out and detect any kinks in an off-year election, rather than in the high-profile statewide elections of 2020 and 2021.

It would be interesting and enlightening for those participants on this blog who have served, or will be serving next Tuesday, as election officials or observers to report on their experiences with the implementing of this major change.