Election officials say letters mislead voters

Local registrars and state election officials have fielded numerous calls from voters who have received letters leading them to believe they weren’t registered.

The Virginia Department of Elections issued a statement this week from Commissioner Edgardo Cortés noting that the agency has fielded numerous phone calls from concerned voters who received a letter suggesting their registration was in question. At least two organizations – America’s Future Inc. and the Voter Participation Center – sent similar letters to individuals already properly registered, not qualified to register at the mailing address used, or those who are deceased, according to information from Cortés.

“Although these letters include our street address and contact information, these letters did not come from the Department and are not official election mail,” Cortés stated. “As a reminder, Virginia voters can always confirm their current voter registration status and submit necessary updates on the Department of Elections’ secure Citizen Portal at vote.virginia.gov.

“Voters can disregard any information received from outside entities that contradict our official records,” Cortés went on to state.

The Voter Participation Center, based in Washington, D.C., states on its website, “http://www.voterparticipationcenter.org” target=”_blank”>www.voterparticipationcenter.org, that its mission is to increase civic engagement among what it calls the “rising American electorate” that includes unmarried women, people of color and millennials. No one from the Voter Participation Center returned a call or email for comment Thursday.

Warren County General Registrar Carol Tobin said Thursday her office has been affected.

“I think every office has received calls,” Tobin said. “It’s been very confusing for the voters. They’re just concerned – are they registered to vote or sometimes they’re just filling out the application that’s included and they’re just duplicating their registration.”

The confusion comes at a critical time with a general election looming, Tobin noted.

“It’s not that we don’t want people that aren’t registered to get registered but it puts a burden on the voter and the registration offices to sort it all out,” Tobin said.

Voters who receive such a letter should contact their registrar to check their status before completing the application, Tobin said.

Shenandoah County Registrar Lisa McDonald said Thursday the problem has affected her office and recounted several recent incidents.

“One of the (Voter Participation Center) letters returned to us was from an angry citizen whose child is turning 14 this month, and had received a letter stating he was not registered,” McDonald stated in an email. “Also, I am aware that a letter from America’s Future was sent to another general registrar’s 3-year-old son. A long-time electoral board member in another county also received a letter from the VPC stating that he is not currently registered.

“Some of my election officers have relayed to me that they too had received these letters,” McDonald went on to state. “We have had, and I have heard reports across the state of people receiving these letters who are already registered, are children, and family members have contacted me to say that their loved one received a letter stating they are not registered to vote, but the person has been deceased for years. Understandably, this has been very upsetting to many people.”

McDonald’s office has received phone calls and duplicate registrations from “anxious” people who mistakenly believe the letters came from the registrar or the state agency. This created anxiety for voters and extra work for registration offices, McDonald said.

The Voter Participation Center has included the Shenandoah County registrar’s office in its mailings while America’s Future displays the address for the Department of Elections and the State Electoral Board.

Contact Shenandoah County registrar at 459-6195, the Warren County office at 635-4327 or the Department of Elections at 1-800-552-9745 or via email at info@elections.virginia.gov for more information.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137, ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com.