A voter purge, new rules and a vote margin of about (!) 0.00073 percent

One big election from last Tuesday is not over — the election of Virginia’s Attorney General.

Right now the voting margin stands at an astounding 17 votes out of more than 2.2 million.

As the Washington Post reports:

The contest for attorney general is so close that the normal process of fixing errors and counting provisional ballots has caused the results tally to narrow dramatically in an already close race.

And the results are likely to continue shifting, with provisional ballots unreported in one large locality, Fairfax County, and possibly incomplete in another, Richmond.

Once again, it’s clear that every vote matters and every vote should count.

Yet Virginia’s election results very well could have been affected by a voter purge

Particularly since the 2010 election, Republicans in state offices have passed and implemented policies that restrict the vote.

In Maine, that meant doing away with same-day voter registration, a practice restored by the voters in an overwhelming People’s Veto vote.

In Virginia this year, restricting the vote was done by purging voter rolls of 57,000 individuals, based on a database showing them registered to vote in another state. However, errors in the database can cause “false positives,” leading some voters to be wrongly removed.

Democrats brought a lawsuit in Virginia.

The lawsuit claims that the interstate database has been created by Republicans who purport to be preventing fraud, but in reality are seeking to suppress vote totals in communities that traditionally vote Democratic. . .

In Virginia, state and local election boards are controlled by Republican nominees when the sitting governor is a Republican, as is the case with McDonnell.

“At best, Defendants’ conduct reflects inadvertent sloppiness in attempting to ensure that unqualified voters do not vote in Virginia’s election. At worst, the conduct is driven by partisan politics. Neither explanation justifies the conduct,” the lawsuit states.

Because Virginia has no same-day voter registration, people who showed up to vote but were not on the rolls could not register that day.

So what would people wrongly purged do?

They should have been told that it was possible to cast a provisional ballot. Some would have gone through the process to do so, while others, perhaps under time constraints, would have left the polling place before doing so.

But now the rules affecting those voters have been changed

After the election, Virginia officials changed the rules on provisional ballots.

Nearly 500 voters cast provisional ballots in [Fairfax] county, many more across Virginia, in Tuesday’s election. But the promise from Democratic and Republican parties to make sure their ballots got counted is now no good.

The state Electoral Board decided Friday to change the rules that had been followed in Fairfax County and ban legal representatives from stepping in to help get the ballot counted, unless the voter him or herself is there.

So, in extraordinarily close race, the final result will probably be affected by the voting purge and the new provisional ballot rule.

A recount for this close of a race is required, but lawsuits may also follow.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.