Tuesday, 14 October is a critical date for Virginia voters. It is the last day to register to vote November 4 if not yet registered. The 14th is also the “cut-off” date for obtaining the actual new state Voter ID; a temporary is available afterwards. And there’re other wild cards.
One of the problems arising out of tea party style activism, aka active and passive resistance to good order and conduct of legitimate government functions, is that application of the law may very well be inconsistent jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The guidance being passed by Voter ID activists seems based on single or limited jurisdictional experience and ignores an issue created by the Department of Elections when it mailed erroneous letters to voters telling them they may no longer be eligible to vote.
Activists have been told that the new voter ID cards will be issued “right up until Election Day.” Yes and no. The devil is in the details and it depends upon what you mean by “issued” and “until.” What may be true is that registered voters, even those registering for the first time, who apply for the Voter ID card through 14 October enjoy a very good assurance that they will be issued and receive the shiny new, wasteful in terms of government spending, and otherwise useless card at the residence where they are registered in time to use it to vote on November 4. However, after that date the receipt of an “issued” Voter ID diminishes exponentially to zero by Election Day.
What applicants can receive after 14 October is a “temporary Voter ID” in the form of a full sheet, printed facsimile of the ID that will later be issued and mailed to their address. A specific written policy to Registrars concerning provision of that “temporary Voter ID” would be risky. Persons applying after the 14th should request one if it is not offered and carry it with them from the Registrar’s office. If the application is being made at a remote location and printing is not available, the voter is risking being unable to vote on 4 November.
That temporary ID (that ironically will have an expiration date) can be provided through Election Day rather than until Election Day. And here is one place where confusion may reign and local policy may vary. Election Day is a busy day for Registrars. How they handle office hours and applications for Voter IDs that day is their call and may not be convenient for voters. Of course it is in the Registrars’ interest to reduce the number of provisional votes cast, but that may be influenced upon how they view their role. Just another brick removed from that equal protection foundation.
And for all voters who discover they do not have sufficient ID on Election Day, the burden is not equal. They have a couple of choices, neither of which is convenient nor as simple or complex jurisdiction to jurisdiction. One choice is to vote provisionally and obtain and present a Voter ID to the Registrar by 7 November. Another is to leave the poll, go to the Registrar’s office, obtain a temporary ID, return to the poll and vote. For those working 9 to 5 jobs, both of those options practically mean their votes will either not be cast or not be counted. And weighing the two options is different in a jurisdiction where the Registrar’s office is in close proximity to all polling places compared to a jurisdiction that is spread out and has traffic congestion (or traffic congestion alone).
Oh, and by the way, when we say “until” 7 November, we mean by noon on 7 November, though that too may vary jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
This means that during the initial canvas of provisional votes if a ballot is provisional for Photo ID the canvas may recess until after noon on Friday the 7th, possibly delaying the outcomes of some elections, as close as some are of late.
Now for those who were part of the Department of Elections “registration confusion campaign” receiving letters saying they appeared to be registered in another state when they had only moved within Virginia, there may be another problem. They may no longer be registered to vote and not know it. They may have been purged by an overzealous Registrar who trusted the Department’s files and the voter’s response. If they have no ID it will not matter that they can’t get one in time for this Election Day. They won’t be able to vote in any case unless they re-register by this coming Tuesday.
Those voters who received the notification may have responded in a manner that led the Registrar to take them off the rolls. The reason is that a recipient may have moved within Virginia and misinterpreted the meaning of the required response. They may have thought, “Yes, indeed I did move and I need to be removed from the voter rolls in the old location,” signing and dating the card. Unfortunately, that would remove them from the Virginia rolls, period. There was no option in the response to indicate “I moved within the city/county and here is my new address” or “I’ve moved to Louisiana” or another option. Now a Registrar acting as a detective might notice that the return address on the envelope is in Virginia and know that they simply needed to be transferred. But, there was no process for that and no cause to believe the list was erroneous from the get go.
By the time the error was publicized and a correction letter mailed out, it may have been too late to save some registrations. The correction letter suggested the voter go online to check their status and re-register if necessary. Of course, that makes a number of assumptions about access and whether a person the Department has already confused will be able to wade through the website. And even if they do, if they are among those who need a Voter ID, they still have to go to the Registrar’s office. That part isn’t mentioned.
Oh, and if a voter is part of the group who were removed from the rolls erroneously and doesn’t have an ID, there is no roster that will identify either condition. For them, there is no make up for this eff up. They won’t even be able to vote provisionally and have it count. For all others who show up to vote without a photo ID the question will be whether the frustration and confusion is sufficient to dissuade them from pursuing their right to cast a ballot so that this effort at suppression will succeed.