Civil rights groups express hope that state has corrected Motor Voter problems, but encourage residents to ‘find out where you stand ’ before Oct. 9 deadline
Two leading civil rights organizations are urging Virginians who have completed voter registration forms, but who have not received their voter identification cards, to contact their local voter registrar immediately. Voters who are told that they are not registered are encouraged to go to their city or county registrar’s office and register no later than Tuesday, October 9—the deadline for citizens who wish to vote in the November 6 election. On that day, Virginians will elect a new governor and other state officials.
Representatives of People For the American Way Foundation and the NAACP National Voter Fund say they are alerting citizens now to help head off any confusion or problems when Virginians go to the polls next month. Last November, some state residents who had registered to vote at various state Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices discovered on Election Day that their names had not been added to the voter rolls.
The 1993 federal law that enables voting-age residents to register by mail, at motor vehicle offices and at other government agencies—known as Motor Voter—was designed to expand voter participation. Yet, at times, citizens in many states have been frustrated in trying to register under Motor Voter. In fact, the Federal Election Commission reported that Virginia was one of 23 states last November that experienced significant problems complying with Motor Voter. These problems included incomplete applications, change-of-address errors or DMV workers failing to follow proper procedures.
The two civil rights groups expressed hope that state and local officials have fully corrected these problems, but spokespersons said that voters should take the initiative by confirming that they are registered to vote.
“We hope that the state has worked with local officials to correct problems with Motor Voter and to address other concerns, but we’re still urging Virginians to be proactive,” explained Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF). “We don’t want them to show up at the polls on Tuesday, November 6, only to learn then that their registration form wasn’t processed or received by election officials.”
Delisa Saunders, deputy field director for PFAWF, said that voters who are unsure of their registration status should start the process by contacting their county or city registrar.
“For those citizens who registered to vote in the past several months and have not received a voter identification card in the mail, it’s time to phone their city or county registrar,” Saunders added. “If the registrar tells them they aren’t registered to vote, they should register right away.”
In addition to those who have yet to receive voter identification cards by mail, Saunders encouraged voters who have moved from one locality to another or changed addresses within the same city or town to call their registrar to confirm that they are registered.
To help get the message out, PFAWF is sending an “action alert” e-mail to members and supporters in Virginia, urging them to confirm their voter registration status. Virginians who have not received their voter identification cards can find the name and phone number of their local registrar on the Internet: http://www.sbe.state.va.us/VotRegServ/. Citizens can also contact the state Board of Elections toll-free at 1-800-552-9745.
“Last November, Florida and other states reminded us of how fragile the right to vote is,” Saunders said. “Our message to Virginia voters is simple: ‘Don’t be surprised on Election Day. Find out where you stand. Call the registrar in your city or county today and make sure you’re registered.’ ”
PFAWF and the NAACP National Voter Fund are part of a coalition of groups that oversee “Election Protection”—a non-partisan program that encourages voter participation, informs voters of their rights and maintains a toll-free hotline to help address voters’ Election Day concerns. Election Protection initiated its work in the June 19 special election in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District. According to the Boston Globe, Election Protection efforts during that special election “contributed to a relatively smooth day of voting.”
During the years 1999-2000, the Federal Election Commission reported that nearly 910,000 Virginians registered to vote at DMV offices across the state.