By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL -- The Democratic Party of Virginia nearly swamped local voter registrars' offices with a recent information request. Now the State Board of Elections plans to work with party officials to fulfill the request for information.
Justin Riemer, deputy secretary for the State Board of Elections, said Wednesday the agency may ask the party to modify its request for the information, which other jurisdictions across the commonwealth also received. Virginia now is handling the matter for the more than 130 registrars offices and local electoral boards, Riemer said.
"We thought that it would be better to work out some of the issues ... at our level to clarify some of their requests, and it's easier sometimes dealing with one entity than with 133 entities," Riemer said. "We're going to work with them on their requests and clarify some of the legal issues involved and then hopefully they're going to be able to resubmit their request."
Warren County Board of Supervisors heard at its meeting Tuesday night how the request would have tied up the local voter registrar's office.
County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell stated in an email Wednesday that the county office received the request from Matthew Weinstein on behalf of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
"It asks for a lot of voter information, and some records that don't even exist yet, such as who is voting in the upcoming November elections," Mitchell stated. "Estimate of cost to respond was very speculative, but it was not going to be cheap."
In a statement, Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Brian Coy questioned the objectivity of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who is the Republican candidate for governor.
"This is an election where [Attorney General] Ken Cuccinelli is both a candidate for Governor and an official whose job it is to provide legal counsel to the office that oversees the election for Governor," Coy stated in an email. "In light of that blatant conflict of interest, the DPVA submitted requests for public information that will help ensure that every legal vote is counted accurately.
"We are working with the state board and the local registrars to obtain the information we requested in a way that is least cumbersome for election officials but ensures that all Virginians' right to vote is protected," Coy added.
General Registrar Carol Tobin estimated the response could span more than 1,000 pages for just what the county could supply. The request also sought information that only the State Board of Elections could provide.
Specifically, the request listed 17 areas of documents or information being sought by the Democratic Party. This included information about those asking for absentee ballots, a list of all registered voters in the county, copies of all envelopes in which absentee ballots were cast, the names of anyone who submitted voter registration applications, the paper poll books for the county, names of anyone who cast provisional ballots, copies of the instructions from the State Board of Elections pertaining to the 2013 election, and copies of any FOIA requests from any gubernatorial campaign.
The request did not specify the date of the election information sought, Mitchell noted. County officials did not know if the request covered all elections in a given period of time. Much of the information requested, if applied to the 2013 elections, does not exist.
"So the request is premature as well as not date-specific," Mitchell said.
Registrars sought the help of the State Board of Elections. The agency contacted the party and asked them to revise their information request before any of the local registrars' offices send responses, Mitchell stated. The party also has sent a letter to the state agency advising that they are revising the request. Mitchell said Warren County will not respond to the FOIA request until the jurisdiction receives an amended request.
When registrars receive information requests of this type the offices forward it to each other and to the State Board of Elections, Riemer explained.
The request made its way to city and county attorneys where it began perking more interest, Riemer said. But the official noted that registrars and the State Board of Elections receive numerous requests through the Freedom of Information. The law dictates what parties can and can't receive through a FOIA request. Political parties can request and receive lists of register voters and history, Riemer said.
The level of detail in requests from both political parties continues to grow with each election year, Riemer said. At the same time, the local registrars receive the information requests in the busy months leading up to the elections.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org