Constitutional Emergency

Richmond Times Dispatch

Penned By: Wesley P. Hester

UPDATE: Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, says the State Board of Elections would have to initiate a request for an investigation.

"Our job right now is to advise our client, the SBE, as they work to ensure the law is complied with and that the voter registration process is not compromised," he said.

"With regard to an investigation, any type of investigation on the part of our office would have to be initiated by a request from SBE.  The SBE has not made such a request."

Justin Riemer deputy secretary of the State Board of Elections, said the state board has not officially received the letter from the Romney campaign, but has obtained a copy. The three-member state board will determine whether to seek an investigation.

"We're looking at it and working with the attorney general's office to address the concerns they've raised," he said, referring to the Romney camp.

(This has been a breaking news update.)

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign is asking Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to launch an investigation into voter-registration forms that are being sent to Virginia residents and addressed to deceased relatives, children, family pets and others ineligible to vote.

The errant mailings from the Washington-based nonprofit group Voter Participation Center have befuddled many Virginia residents, leading to hundreds of complaints.

The organization has been mass-mailing the forms — pre-populated with key information such as names and addresses — to primarily Democratic-leaning voting blocs such as young adults, unmarried women, African-Americans and Latinos.

In a letter to Cuccinelli's office and the State Board of Elections, Kathryn Bieber, an attorney for the Romney campaign, calls for an investigation into the matter by law-enforcement officials, claiming that the mailings appear to violate "at least one and maybe several Virginia laws aimed at ensuring a fair election."

Bieber refers to the mailings as "tactics that amount to, or at the very least induce, voter registration fraud," and says the issue "presents a very significant risk to the proper administration of the upcoming general election."

Citing a Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch story that brought the mailings to light, the letter also asks the State Board of Elections to require registrars to reject all pre-populated voter registration applications from the group and review the eligibility of all Virginians who have registered in the past two months.

"This is the only way for voters and other interested parties to regain confidence in the voter registration and electoral process that has been abused by the Voter Participation Center," the letter says.

Page Gardner, president and CEO of the Voter Participation Center, said the organization mailed nearly 200,000 third-party registration forms to Virginia addresses in June, which resulted in 15,026 new voters being registered as of July 18.

On Monday, the Voter Participation Center responded to the Sunday Times-Dispatch story, stating in a letter on its website that "imperfections in the VPC vendors' lists — while regrettable and unfortunate — should not be the reason or the excuse to call an entire process that is working into question."

Justin Riemer, the State Board of Elections' deputy secretary, said forms have been sent by the group to deceased infants, out-of-state family members, and non-U.S. citizens, among others.

In a letter this month, the State Board of Elections asked the group to cease pre-populating their forms and raised questions about how the group was obtaining lists of registered voters, citing the errant forms.

Riemer noted that pre-populating the forms violates rules set forth in the state code and the Virginia Constitution requiring that voters fill out their own forms.

The State Board of Elections had not received the letter from the Romney campaign Tuesday afternoon and declined to comment on the specifics.

No comment was immediately available from Cuccinelli's office.

Asked for comment on the Romney campaign's letter, the Voter Participation Center issued a statement noting that their forms are official applications, not registration cards.



"Furthermore, they were approved before we sent them out by the State Board of Elections and are the same applications that anyone can access at a local government office or on the internet," the statement read.  "Our process is legal and working."

whester@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6976

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