Capitol Square Diary
One Medium Step?
By Stephen J. Rossie

There’s at least some unity in state government on the issue of secure voter registration. In the face of Governor Terry McAuliffe refusing to cooperate with a presidential commission that is examining potential voting irregularities and fraud across the country, as well as his vetoes of legislation to safeguard the voting process, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission adopted a resolution that instructed the JLARC staff to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the Virginia Department of Elections.

Square7 imageIt is the first time in nearly 20 years that the department has undergone an audit. The resolution, which was passed July 10, was prompted by a series of technical problems with VERIS, the software the Department of Elections uses to run the commonwealth’s voting system.

The system has not been a favorite with many registrars. Its most recent, and celebrated, failure was last fall before the presidential election. A surge of new registrations just prior to the deadline crashed the system’s website, locking out numerous new voters from the voter rolls. A federal judge stepped in to order an extension of the deadline to allay the disarray.

Senator Mark Obenshain (RRockingham County) proposed the review of VERIS, which will determine if it can be fixed or if it needs to be scrapped altogether. The new state budget includes $3.9 million to upgrade VERIS. But with Virginia’s every-year election cycle there’s no time to lose. All three statewide offices and the entire 100-seat House of Delegates will be decided this November, and a high profile U.S. Senate and U.S. House elections a year after that.

Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortes, who said he welcomes the audit, believes that expanding the current system’s server capacity and other modifications will fix the problems. His staff is already at work on it after acquiring access to the VERIS in-house code. He thinks $5 million more over five years will do the trick instead of an estimated $20-$30 million for an entirely new system.

Cortes also said the department believes in transparency, but the audit, which must be completed by December 15, 2018, will be a thorough examination of the agency that looks into more than technical problems, including how the department "supervises and coordinates” elections, the training it provides to local election officials, whether it keeps voter registration lists clean and up-to-date, and the general effectiveness of its functions.

Although coincidental to the ongoing national discussion of voter fraud, there’s no getting around the need to look at every aspect of the election process in Virginia (and nationally). Instead, the always partisan McAuliffe refused to cooperate with the feds last month. He said at the time, "At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump's alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression," while asserting there is no voter fraud in Virginia. This, despite convictions of individuals for voter registration fraud in Harrisonburg and Alexandria, and an indictment on absentee ballot tampering in Waverly by that town’s mayor — not to mention the VERIS and other potential Election Department problems. This doesn’t even include proven duplicate voter registrations with other states, a problem that should not incite partisanship.

All of this also comes in light of states (such as California) and localities that are poised to issue drivers licenses to illegal aliens and at least one city, College Park, Md., that is considering allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections. It’s a formula sure to create chaos and doubt in our electoral system — one to help the victory of one side but sowing the seeds of bitterness and divisiveness toward the other side should it win.

If you think what we’re going through now is bad . . . just wait. Hopefully, this JLARC audit will be at least a medium step forward in validating the security and fairness of Virginia’s elections.

 





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