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The Right Note: A Solution in Search of a Problem?

by Mark Kelly — July 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark Kelly

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

You may not have heard much about it, but the State Board of Elections (SBE) is considering changes to the Virginia voter registration form and accompanying regulations in advance of the 2016 elections.

Under the Virginia Constitution, Article 2, Section 2, the Commonwealth “shall require the applicant to provide the following information on a standard form: full name; date of birth; residence address; social security number, if any; whether the applicant is presently a United States citizen; and such additional information as may be required by law.”

The proposed regulatory changes say that failure to provide some of these items, say a social security number for instance, is no longer a material omission, or bright line rule, that would stop someone from registering to vote. Worse, the regulations say that no registrar may disqualify a voter if they simply sign the form in the appropriate place.

While some may support removing the social security number requirement, or others, from the current voter registrations forms and regulations, SBE has no authority to remove it. The idea that an agency or department can simply write a regulation that re-writes the law is something we are seeing more and more of in America, but it should be unacceptable.

Governor McAuliffe supports the changes. His office said the changes were proposed by the staff at SBE, not the political appointees, in hopes of streamlining the registration process.

But well over 5 million Virginians are currently registered to vote under the existing system. Prior to these proposed regulations, there was not a stream of stories claiming the process was in any way a burden new voters are somehow unable to bear.

And according to the public comments thus far, Virginia Registrars are generally opposed to the changes. These are the public servants charged with reviewing the credentials of potential voters to ensure our elections are fair.

While voter fraud is relatively rare, it does happen. Creating a form that makes it the least bit easier to commit voter fraud is not only bad public policy, but it also undermines the public’s trust in the system. Whether intentional or not, when an ineligible voter is allowed to cast a vote, it improperly dilutes the vote of every eligible voter who goes to the polls.

While registering to vote and voting should be relatively easy, there must be safeguards in place to protect the sanctity of the vote. I am not prepared to declare this a Democratic conspiracy to propel Hillary Clinton to a win next November, but the changes raise serious questions and SBE should go back to the drawing board.

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