ACLU urges State Board of Elections to ensure full access to ballot

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sent a letter to the State Board of Elections last week calling for action to ensure all eligible voters are able to vote in the upcoming elections and are informed about the new law requiring identification at the polls.

“We are all interested in preserving the integrity of elections, and in our great democracy want to be sure that all eligible individuals are able to carry out their civic duty by casting their votes this year,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire G. Gastañaga. “To this end, we’re asking the Board of Elections to put forth their very best efforts to ensure access to the ballot.”

The ACLU’s letter calls attention to three issues that it would like resolved before the October 15 voter registration deadline.

First, the SBE has current addresses for what could be hundreds of thousands of voters on its “inactive” list and urges the Board to send voting information directly to those individuals at their current addresses. The Board has stated it will send new voter registration cards, which may serve as the voter’s form of identification at the polls, to “active” voters only. Records show, however, that nearly half a million voters are considered “inactive” because they failed to respond to a mailing sent by the Board of Elections asking for address confirmation.

Second, local registrars have been given misleading guidance for handling absentee ballot applications that could result in eligible voters being unable to cast an absentee ballot. Among the reasons one can cite to obtain an absentee ballot is reason 7A, which states that the voter is moving or plans to move to another state after October 8, 2012. The guidance given to registrars says they must deny applications for absentee ballots as incomplete if an applicant selects reason 7A and does not provide a new address (from another state). This is misleading because state law does not require individuals to provide a new mailing address. The ACLU urges SBE to remove the new address requirement for voters using reason 7A and provide registrars with updated guidance clarifying that a new address is not required to obtain an absentee ballot.

Lastly, the ACLU asks SBE to ensure that its public education materials being disseminated pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order clearly explain the change in the state’s voter identification law and list all forms of acceptable identification. The ACLU has viewed a public service announcement recently broadcast at Norfolk State University that identifies only three forms of acceptable identification, all of which were photo IDs. Any reasonable viewer could believe, as a result of the video, that a photo ID is necessary to vote. State law does not require photo ID to vote, and the SBE should take action to ensure that all educational literature and PSAs include an illustrative list of acceptable IDs, including some that are neither government issued nor include a photo.

“Election Day is the one time when all Americans can have a say in their government. We have and will continue to do all we can to protect the principle of one person, one vote,” added Gastañaga. “We recognize that the Board has a tough job ahead of them and is under enormous time and financial constraints. Nonetheless, it is their responsibility to provide effective and accurate information to voters about the new voter ID requirements, train poll workers and other election officers, and make certain that eligible voters are not denied access to the ballot.”

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