Failure to purge voter rolls puts Chesterfield in thick of Attorney General showdown

by Kenric Ward

Chesterfield General Registrar Lawrence Haake is under a 90-day deadline to scrub the county’s voter rolls. A statewide recount of Virginia election results in the attorney general’s race is expected to be complete before then.

Chesterfield County’s refusal to clean up its voter rolls before the Nov. 5 Virginia election threatens to turn the populous county into a legal battleground in the still-undecided attorney general’s race.

True the Vote, a national election-watch group, warned Chesterfield last month to scrub out ineligible voters, or be sued. The State Board of Elections had given the county a list of 2,200 names to review.

But Chesterfield General Registrar Lawrence Haake declined to purge any voters, saying it was too close to the election.

Haake also challenged the accuracy of the state list, saying 170 of the voters shouldn’t have been on it.

Chesterfield, a GOP stronghold, cast more than 103,000 votes in the attorney general’s race: 57,099 for Republican Mark Obenshain and 46,508 for Democrat Mark Herring. The 55-45 percent margin was notably smaller than Ken Cuccinelli’s 66-34 win in Chesterfield in the 2009 AG race.

Herring holds a precarious 164-vote lead in the latest statewide tally. And as a recount looms, Chesterfield’s unscrubbed voter rolls will come under scrutiny.

“True the Vote is keeping a close eye on counties like Chesterfield that refused to follow (state) guidelines and remove duplicate voter registrations ahead of the election,” said Logan Churchwell, spokesman for the Texas-based organization.

Haake responded, “They should be giving me an award, rather than suing me. I’m doing what they profess to stand for — protecting the right to vote.”

Lisa Wooten, president of the Voter Registrars’ Association of Virginia, said that every other county complied with the state order.

But Wooten, general registrar in the city of, added, “In Chesterfield’s defense, they had new voting equipment, were short-staffed and two new polling places.”

In all, some 38,000 Virginia voters’ names were struck from the rolls before the election.

Fairfax County removed 7,206 of 7,934 names provided by the state, according to local electoral board secretary Brian Schoeneman. In Loudoun County, Herring’s home, general registrar Judy Brown said she personally wiped off 1,843 of 2,176 names.

Haake said he “always intended” to clean up Chesterfield’s voting lists, and said he would do so before the end of January — within the 90-day deadline set by True the Vote.

Though the attorney general recount will likely be finished by then, legal wrangling could prolong the process.

Catherine Engelbrecht, president of True the Vote, says her group is keeping an eye on Chesterfield.

“We are sending a message to all local election administrators charged with record maintenance duties in Virginia,” True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht said in a statement.
“When an administrator admits his refusal to follow state and federal laws, voter confidence and turnout are severely impacted. Voter rolls must be held above politics.”

In an Oct. 19 letter to Haake, attorney Christian Adams stated:

“Federal law requires election officials to conduct a reasonable effort to maintain voter registration lists free from dead voters, ineligible voters and voters who have moved away.

“You submitted a declaration, which admits that your office is failing to comply with state law. The declaration demonstrates that your office is failing to take reasonable steps to ensure the voter rolls are free from ineligible voters,” Adams wrote.

The Democratic Party of Virginia sued to block the state election board’s directive to remove ineligible voters.

U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton rejected the Democrats’ claim, ruling, “The commonwealth has a compelling interest in preventing voter fraud and maintaining accurate voter registration rolls.”

Kenric Ward is chief of Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

The State Board of Elections on Monday declared Democrat Mark R. Herring Virginia’s next attorney general, capping a dramatic three-week certification process in the closest statewide race in Virginia history, winning by 165 votes out of more than 2 million cast.

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