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Registrars scramble with big backlog in DMV registration applications

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Balmer explains how his office is processing over 4100 additional voter registration applications submitted through the Virginia DMV and recently discovered to have been delayed since last spring.

Local election registrars are scrambling to notify voters whose registration applications through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles had been delayed since last spring.

Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals confirmed on Wednesday that the Department of Elections had forwarded approximately 107,000 voter registration applications “recently submitted” through the DMV to local registrars to update voting rolls with new registrations, updated addresses and other changes.

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The Virginia Public Access Project, a nonprofit elections website, first reported on Wednesday what it described as a “computer glitch” between the two state agencies that had resulted in a sharp drop-off in motor voter registrations that began in May.

“We had registrations that were dated from May until September,” said Hanover County Registrar Teresa Smithson, who received an estimated backlog of about 1,100 registration applications in her office this week.

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Beals, appointed this year by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said the department had detected a problem last week and attributed it to “intermittent network issues within the Department of Elections.”

“No voter registration data was lost, but the issue will cause an increase in processing voter registration applications at the local level,” she said in a statement.

Youngkin’s office and the DMV referred questions to the Department of Elections. “Since this occurred on their end of the system, they are best suited to discuss,” DMV spokesperson Brandy Brubaker said Wednesday.

The increase is significant for local registrars and their elections offices in the Richmond area, which received thousands of backlogged registration applications this week — more than 5,000 in Chesterfield County alone.

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The local offices, which say they’re already thinly staffed, will have to notify the newly registered voters of their voting precincts and polling places, with early voting already underway for congressional races and local elections on Nov. 8.

“Every registrar’s office could use about 10 more people right at this moment,” Chesterfield Registrar Missy Vera said Wednesday.

Henrico County Registrar Mark Coakley said he received 4,490 registration applications on Wednesday morning that had been originally submitted to DMV and then processed through the Department of Elections’ VERIS computer system.

“Somewhere there’s a disconnect,” Coakley said.

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The disconnect is untimely, with local elections offices already trying to explain to some voters why they are registered to vote in entirely new congressional and legislative districts, due to new political maps that the Virginia Supreme Court approved on Dec. 28 after a newly established independent redistricting commission failed to do the job because of partisan fighting.

Voters have another year before they cast ballots in races in new districts for the House of Delegates and Senate, but voting already has begun in mid-term elections that will determine party control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In western Henrico and western Chesterfield, residents who previously had voted in the 7th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a Democrat who lives in western Henrico, might now live in the new 1st Congressional District, represented by Rep. Rob Wittman, a Republican who lives in Montross on the Northern Neck.

Other Henrico and Chesterfield voters might live in the 4th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Donald McEachin, a Democrat from South Richmond, whose district is mostly unchanged.

“We still have voters wanting their 7th District ballots,” Coakley said.

Voters in Chesterfield cast ballots in November 2021.

More than 72,000 Hanover voters are part of the 1st, while 13,000 voters in western Hanover, as well as Powhatan and Goochland counties, are now part of the 5th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Bob Good, a Republican who lives outside of Lynchburg in Campbell County.

In Richmond, the congressional boundaries haven’t changed, but Registrar Keith Balmer said his office just received about 4,100 backlogged registration applications it has to process quickly.

“It just means we’re going to have to work long hours to get it done,” Balmer said.

Some jurisdictions also are holding local special elections, including the Beaverdam District seat on Hanover’s Board of Supervisors and the Midlothian District seat on Chesterfield’s Board of Supervisors. Others, including Henrico and Chesterfield, are holding referendums on issuing bonds for public capital projects.

“We’re getting the back end of it for the voters,” Coakley said of the state computer glitch.

Beals, the state elections commissioner, said she won’t know exactly how many new registrations were delayed “until local registrars finish processing them.”

She said voters can check their registration status through the Department of Elections Citizen Portal at www.elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal.

“The Department of Elections is committed to supporting accurate, fair, open and secure elections for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Beals said.

mmartz@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6964

cwoods@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @charlottewords

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