"This office has determined that you are no longer entitled to be registered to vote in the Commonwealth of Virginia because you have moved to another state."
This was news to me. I called the county Registrar (or at least her office, not certain it was the Registrar herself who answered) and asked why they thought I'd moved.
"Let me pull up your file. It'll take me a while, because these records are on kind of a inconvenient spreadsheet."
After about three minutes she comes back to me and says, "Here it is. You registered to vote in South Carolina in 2009, right?"
"Well, yes." I admit. "But I moved here to Virginia in 2012 and registered to vote here, and filled out the Virginia registration form requesting for my SC registration to be cancelled."
"Oh, well, South Carolina gave Virginia a list that had your name on it."
She then went on to explain that Virginia is participating in a data exchange with certain other states, in an effort to eliminate the possibility of people voting in more than one state.
"It's new, and it's kind of a mess right now. The State Board in Richmond collected 350,000 names of people that moved. They've split them up by county and dumped them on a pretty crude Excel spreadsheet and sent that to the county registrars. It's hard to work with."
She goes on to say (if I understood her correctly) that her instructions from Richmond were to drop everyone on this list from the county rolls. If people on the list thought they should be allowed to vote in Virginia, they can do what I did — call the Registrar. She then helpfully offered to send me another registration form to get re-registered.
After finishing this call, I went to South Carolina's online system that allows one to check their registration status. It shows that I am not registered to vote in the state. Just to make sure, I called the registrar's office in my old county in SC. They also confirmed that I am not on the SC rolls. "You were removed when we were notified that you had moved out of state in 2012," they said. Apparently, the list of voters registered out-of-state that Virginia is using is quite old, at least in the case of South Carolina.
I should note that I received no correspondence or notification of any kind before the cancellation letter. That seems a significant oversight. Obviously, election officials have my correct address — that's where the cancellation letter was sent. That's also the one on my Virginia driver's license, where my cars are registered, the house I pay the county property tax for, and the address I used for filing Virginia income tax. I guess that election officials aren't crosschecking those records before dumping people from the rolls.
In my particular case, the harm is minimal. I can take the time to re-register, and the lady in the Accomack county registrar's office was most apologetic, taking pains to reassure me that I would be able to re-register without problem.
But I wonder how many others of that 350,000 will be dropped in error and without proper notice? People who may not be able to find the time to re-register as easily as I can? And if I may be forgiven for being cynical, and perhaps a bit paranoid — is there any way the re-registration process could be made a bit, er, selective? Is there any possibility registrars in some counties could discourage the "wrong" type of voter from re-registering?
Perhaps I'm reading too much into what may simply be an inept and hurried implementation of a poorly thought out idea. My wife, who moved from the same address in SC to the same address in VA at the same time that I did, did not have her registration cancelled. This may indicate that my cancellation was some kind of bizarre error.
But, this comes pretty close to the 30-day cut-off for registering for the November elections — and 350,000 voters is a pretty significant chunk of votes.