Senate Sends Voter Fraud Bills To Gov.
Measures Addressing AG’s Power, Third-Party Groups Pass
Posted: February 20, 2013
HARRISONBURG — A pair of bills prompted in part by an October incident in which a Republican contractor was charged with throwing out voter registration forms in Harrisonburg passed the state Senate Tuesday.
The chamber first approved legislation requiring third-party groups that register voters to sign up with local registrars or the State Board of Elections. That measure passed by a 36-4 vote.
The Senate then approved a bill giving the state attorney general power to investigate election fraud without prior approval from the state electoral board or a commonwealth’s attorney. It advanced by a 25-14 vote.
Both bills, which had originated in and passed the House of Delegates, now head to Gov. Bob McDonnell to be signed into law.
Harrisonburg Case Cited
In discussing both measures, senators referenced the case of Colin Small, who was charged with throwing away several completed registration forms in Harrisonburg late in the day on Oct. 15 — the last day to register for the November election. Small is accused of throwing out eight forms in a Dumpster behind a local business on University Boulevard. An employee at the business saw the forms being pitched and called police when he realized what they were. Small faces 13 misdemeanor and felony criminal charges. A preliminary hearing in the case has been postponed several times while attorneys review evidence. The hearing is now scheduled for April 4.
At the time of the allegations, the Pennsylvania man worked in the city for Pinpoint, an independent contractor hired by the Republican Party of Virginia to conduct voter registration drives.
Current law says third-party groups do not need to register with the state or local registrars, giving election officials no idea who is out signing up voters. Those voters then must trust that their applications will be turned in on time — not to mention turned in at all.
The bill, sponsored by Del. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, applies only to groups that receive 25 or more voter forms. That prevents people who want to pick up a few applications for family members, for example, from having to go through the registration process.
The bill also makes online training mandatory for group members and requires that the forms be delivered within 10 days upon completion. The current deadline is 15 days.
College student groups are exempt from the bill.
In the Harrisonburg case, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli launched an investigation, but only after the state board authorized him to do so. The incident was among a handful that led Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, to file the bill granting the attorney general direct authority to probe election fraud.
Bell is seeking the Republican nomination for attorney general against Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.
The measure unanimously passed the House but faced resistance from some Senate Democrats, who wanted to amend it to only allow the attorney general to investigate once someone had been arrested or indicted.
In proposing the amendment, Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, said a local commonwealth’s attorney has the role of prosecutor, not the attorney general. Limiting an attorney general’s authority to explore fraud only after an arrest or indictment assures that reports of a scam are not looked into “willy-nilly,” he said.
Obenshain, and most of the rest of the Senate, favored the bill as Bell wrote it.
“This power is probably needed most in situations where there has not been an arrest or an indictment,” Bell said. “Voters have the confidence that instances of fraud are not swept under the rug.”
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