VA Org Mailing Voter Registration Forms Based on Partisan Firm Catalist's Data

On July 5, Breitbart News reported on the Justice Department hiring the “explicitly partisan Democratic data company” Catalist to provide data on registered voters in Texas who supposedly lack photo ID to justify its opposition to the state’s voter ID law. 

Now, the state of Virginia is having problems with a non-profit group, the Voter Participation Center, that has been sending voter registration forms to Virginia residents “addressed to dead relatives, children, family members in other states, non-U.S. citizens, people with similar names, existing registered voters and residents’ cats and dogs.” And who does the non-profit say it got its data from? The same firm used in the Texas case: Catalist.

Texas and its experts virtually demolished the Justice Department’s case in the ongoing litigation in Washington. The state pointed out all of the errors in the list of Texas voters that the Justice Department claimed did not have any ID, which included more than 50,000 dead voters and hundreds of thousands of registered voters, such as former President George Bush and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who actually do have a driver’s license. The data used by the Justice Department was fatally flawed.

The Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) sent a letter on July 2 to the attorney representing the Voter Participation Center (VPC). The VPC’s stated purpose is “developing new ways to enfranchise and empower the historically under-represented groups that now comprise the new American electorate.” The VPC faults conservative activists on its website for “raising false and groundless claims about fraud.” Its staff includes the former caucus director of North Carolina state house Democrats, a former manager from Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection, an Obama White House staffer, and a former campaign field organizer for Obama for America.

VPC has been mailing tens of thousands of registration forms in Virginia, already completed with a person’s name and address, prompting many complaints to the SBE. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Virginia “residents” receiving pre-completed registration forms from VPC have included a Virginia Beach woman’s pet cat and a Bedford County man’s dead dog. Others went to a Hanover County resident’s grandmother who has been dead since 2006; an 8-month old infant who had died; a resident’s daughter who had never lived in Virginia; a resident’s dead husband; a non-citizen; and another resident’s mother who died in 1988 and never lived in Virginia. Apparently, VPC has sent out 5 million registration forms nationwide and 112,000 in Virginia just in June.

The July 2 SBE letter expressed its concerns over VPC sending out thousands of applications to ineligible voters in Virginia. Those forms violated Virginia election law by pre-filling out the name and address of eligible voters; Virginia residents are supposed to fill out this information themselves. The letter also criticized the “unnecessarily flippant manner” shown by the VPC when it started getting complaints about its mailings going to pets and dead voters. In fact, VPC posted a video on its website showing a dog talking to a cat playing with a registration form, with the dog saying, “There are humans getting folks all upset when someone’s pet gets an application in the mail to vote. They want to shut down voter-registration before a bunch of people they might not agree with get a vote.”  VPC was criticized by an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for making “light of this irresponsible behavior.”

In a response on July 3 to the SBE, VPC’s lawyer agreed that VPC would stop filling out the voter registration forms ahead of time. It also agreed to insert language stating that the “Commonwealth of Virginia is not responsible for this mailing” to allay claims that the letters VPC was sending out confused and misled voters into thinking they were official correspondence from election officials. But while VPC claimed it “spends a significant amount of time and money fine tuning its lists and making them as accurate as possible,” it told the SBE that it “works with Catalist, LLC to compile its lists.”

There is no question that data firms in the political consulting business make errors because of the imprecision of some of the data. That’s why they’re supposed to have tight controls in place to try to clean up their information. But it seems that neither VPC nor Catalist spend enough time and money “fine tuning” these lists. Perhaps that is because of the cavalier attitude of VPC as displayed in its video towards a right as important as voting and an issue as serious as the integrity of the voter registration and election process.

But it is interesting that the same firm that prepared data for the Justice Department case against the Texas voter ID law that supposedly showed large numbers of registered voters don’t have an ID is the same firm providing data on eligible Virginia voters to VPC that has sent voter registration forms to non-citizens, non-residents, non-living Virginians, non-humans, and non-adult residents of the Commonwealth. 

I’ll be the first to admit that some of these groups, such as the dead, are “historically under-represented” (except perhaps in Chicago). But unlike VPC, I don’t want them to “comprise the new American electorate.”

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org) and co-author (with John Fund) of “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk” (Encounter Books, August 2012).


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