The Bulletin

‘We want to show that we can make it right:’ Elections board member wants to tackle issues in state audit

By: - September 21, 2018 6:15 am
Virginia Mercury

A member of the Board of Elections called on the department to do a better job maintaining its voter rolls in the board’s first meeting since a state audit found major problems across the department.

The study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found that the Department of Elections’ technology was often unreliable, state staff didn’t communicate with local voter registrars enough and the department was politically influenced.

Clara Belle Wheeler, the board’s vice chair, took particular interest in the department’s technology, which helps maintain the list of eligible Virginia voters.

“It’s not a wonderful system,” Wheeler said at the meeting. “We can’t have a computer system responsible for all of our election information that’s not working properly.”

She took issue with a part of the study that said the state’s list of eligible voters was “likely mostly accurate.” Wheeler said the department needed to fix its computer system, VERIS, to better maintain the list.

“We’ve got to buckle it up and make it right,” she said. “The spotlight is on us and we want to show that we can make it right.”

JLARC’s report noted the system was known to crash on important days, like the last day of voter registration before elections. The state also didn’t always communicate to local registrars when or how to remove people from voting lists, and at least one way to verify voters — the Department of Motor Vehicles — could be inaccurate.

The state looked into replacing its system, the report noted, but only inquired about one program that would require “extensive customization,” the report said. It was quoted to cost $31 million to fully replace, but that was without checking with more than one company.

The department had also previously estimated it would cost $5 million to rebuild the system and has only made it to the planning stages of that process.

“There are means available to make our voter registration list accurate and we’ve got to do that,” Wheeler said.  “We have to have real people casting real votes.”

Also on Thursday, the board took unusual steps to remove Hopewell officials who supported keeping some (but not all) candidates’ names in all capital letters on the ballot.

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.