RICHMOND — Virginia election officials recently reassigned 482 voters to new congressional districts as the state continues to grapple with mapping errors that sowed confusion in several close General Assembly races last year.
In a review of congressional district lines ahead of last week’s primaries, the Virginia Department of Elections identified 1,193 addresses potentially assigned to the wrong congressional district in the state’s voter system, according to Elections Commissioner Chris Piper.
After local registrars looked into the addresses in question, 903 were determined to be in the correct district and 269 residences, home to a total of 482 voters, were mapped incorrectly. An additional 21 were still under review, Piper told the State Board of Elections on Tuesday.
Most of the 176 incorrectly assigned addresses were in the city of Suffolk. Henry County corrected 44 addresses, and the rest were sprinkled throughout the state.
Many of those addresses were close to the border separating one congressional district from another, Piper said, and the problems largely arose through human data entry errors and the quirks of local boundary lines .
For example, Piper said, at some addresses the house itself may lie in one voting district, but the driveway begins in another. Under state regulations, a voter who lives in a house split among two districts is deemed to reside wherever their bedroom or “usual sleeping area” is.
“I think the good news is that we’ve uncovered a lot of information,” said Piper, who compared the process of discovery to kicking over a log and being horrified by the squirmy things that may be better left unknown.
“This really is a mess. I think your metaphor is great,” said elections board member Clara Belle Wheeler. “Because what you don’t know can hurt you.”
The problem of misassigned voters was thrust into the spotlight last year when issues emerged in several House of Delegates races that were so close they went into recounts.
A federal judge declined to throw out the result in the Fredericksburg area’s 28th District, where Republican Del. Bob Thomas defeated Democrat Joshua Cole by fewer than 100 votes.
But the publicity around the issue drove election officials to take a closer look at how so many voters could end up in the wrong district in the state system.
“It troubles me, and it does disturb me that that can happen again,” said board member Singleton McAllister.
Piper said the state review found no clear rule in Virginia that says the state or local registrars have a legal duty to verify that voters are in the right district.
Legislation to clearly spell out those duties was deferred in the 2018 session, along with several other election-related bills. In January, Republican General Assembly leaders said a joint subcommittee would study the issues and draft a comprehensive package of legislative fixes for 2019.
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