Fairfax Co. board orders registrar to process voter address updates

Voters cast their ballots at a Fairfax County polling site in Langley, Virginia on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Eighty percent of the county's registered voters had cast a ballot as of 6 p.m. (WTOP/Kristi King)

WASHINGTON — The Fairfax County Electoral Board has ordered the county’s registrar to process thousands of outstanding voter registration transactions that he had said might violate state or federal law.

The board’s unanimous 3-0 vote Wednesday night was meant to ensure that voters could update their addresses through the Department of Motor Vehicles while any potential problems are sorted out, said Steve Hunt, Electoral Board chairman.

At the same time, the board is asking state Attorney General Mark Herring’s office for an opinion about what information is legally required on a voter address update request that is submitted through the DMV.

“We needed to make sure that those voters’ wishes were honored while we investigate to determine exactly what the correct interpretation of the code is,” Hunt said.

The electronic process had been filling in voters’ previous answers to questions about citizenship, felony convictions and mental status on forms printed out by voter registrars between July 2016 and fall 2017, which at least one commonwealth’s attorney said has led to false fraud prosecutions.

Fairfax County General Registrar Cameron Sasnett had said he would refuse to process the address updates until he received assurances that the data was correct, complete and accurate. The state Department of Elections referred him to the attorney general’s office for potential failure to process legally filed applications, but Sasnett held firm.

The Department of Elections said the only problem was registrars printing forms that were meant to remain electronic.

“We’re actually unsure if there’s a problem, but we’re erring on the side of caution with respect to fulfilling the wishes of the voter,” Hunt said.

When an address change within Virginia is submitted in person, it does not require supporting documentation, because the registrar can obtain the voter’s full existing application to complete the file.

“If a voter can write a new address on a napkin and sign it and hand it to you, then should the electronic equivalent of that require something significantly more?” Hunt said.

Some of the pending registration updates could be duplicates or false alarms, Hunt said, because DMV’s direct connection to the state voter registration database can lead to submissions even when key data like name and address remain the same.

If the registrations are found to be legally lacking, Hunt said, the address updates could still be reversed.

Voters assigned to wrong districts?

Separate issues related to voters assigned to the wrong districts or precincts are getting another look after the controversial Nov. 7 election in the Fredericksburg area, where at least 147 people voted in the wrong races.

In Fairfax County, the review will be an ongoing process, Hunt said, with the help of the county’s mapping technology.

So far, he said, the county has not found any mis-assignments that would be significant in any election results.

“There are a handful that we need to make sure are in the right place. In light of the 700,000 voters that we have, it was very, very small,” Hunt said.

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