Editorial: Registration problems and incorrect mailings raise worries before Tuesday vote

It will be nothing short of a minor miracle if Tuesday’s General Election proceeds without substantial disruption in Virginia.

The Virginia Department disclosed in October that 107,000 voter registration applications and updated records weren’t processed properly. It previously sent incorrect information to 60,000 voters about redistricting changes, and sent 175,000 election-related mailers to the wrong addresses.

And this week, elections officials admitted that the number of backlogged voter records was actually 149,000, not 107,000 as first disclosed.

All of that is deeply worrisome since the stakes of this election could not be greater. The race in Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District is among those that could decide which party controls the U.S. House. And that’s only one of numerous pivotal federal and local races on ballots across the commonwealth this year.

Anyone who doubts the potential importance of every single vote need only recall the 2017 election that saw the campaign in Newport News’ 94th state House District end in a tie. The outcome of the race — and control of the House — was decided by a drawing.

Concerns about this year’s election have been simmering for months, and the roots of the records problem can be traced back years.

The registration backlog is related to the Virginia Election Registration and Information System, or VERIS. In 2016, for instance, it crashed on the registration deadline, leading a judge to extend the deadline. The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a report in 2018 calling it “not sufficiently functional or reliable” and subject to “slow processing speed during peak usage.”

In 2021, the General Assembly approved $16 million to replace the 2007-era system, but elections officials did not select a replacement vendor until October. Former Elections Commissioner Chris Piper told the Washington Post in March the department reasoned it was “better to get it right than meet any deadline.”

Commissioner of Elections Susan Beals, appointed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin to replace Piper in March, told Virginia Public Media that VERIS was unable to input voter data from the Department of Motor Vehicles accepted through the “motor voter” initiative. Those applications — now totaling 149,000 — were sent to local registrars for processing.

That’s a daunting challenge with Election Day looming. But local election offices are determined to get the backlog cleared as soon as possible.

“We get it done for the voters’ sake,” Chesapeake Voter Registrar Mary Lynn Pinkerman told The Virginian-Pilot. “I mean, it’s not their fault; it’s not our fault. It’s just, you know, we got to do what we got to do to make it happen.”

Contrary to what some Democratic officials have claimed, none of this is evidence of some sinister plot by the governor to throw the election into disarray. Yes, he’s the chief executive and responsibility ultimately rests with him, but it’s foolish to believe anything more than bureaucratic incompetence and outdated software are to blame.

But Youngkin shouldn’t be surprised that some Virginians may peer into the shadows and see his tall figure lurking there. He’s been crisscrossing the country to stump for election deniers and, as the old adage goes, people are known by the company they keep. The risk of sharing a stage with charlatans is that, should things go haywire on Tuesday, Youngkin will be hard pressed to convince some there’s nothing nefarious at work.

But there is good news. Thanks to election reforms passed by Democrats in 2020, any voter affected by the issue should be able to cast a provisional ballot at their voting site. And the dedicated work of local election workers may well clear the backlog by Tuesday.

Still, those who intend to vote next week should visit the Department of Elections website (elections.virginia.gov) to confirm their registration status or call (804) 864-8901, ext. 0, before heading to the polls.

And cleaning up this mess should be priority one when the polls close, since a repeat of these events would be wholly unacceptable.