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VA: Voter registration is all over the map

By   /   September 21, 2012  /   No Comments

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ALEXANDRIA — Voter registration rolls are all over the map in Virginia, begging the question: How reliable are the Old Dominion’s records?

County registrars attribute the disparity in high and low levels of voter registration and inactive voter rolls to everything from highly mobile populations to student-saturated demographics.

In Surry County, the comparison of voter registration to U.S. Census figures on voting-age population is roughly 100 percent — by far the highest in the Commonwealth. The state average is roughly 82 percent, according to data compiled by Watchdog.org.

Surry County Registrar Lucille Epps attributed the high registration levels to the tightly knit atmosphere of the 7,000-person town. She said her office does its best to remove dead voters and keep the rolls clean.

“Before they even get cold, we’ve got them off our books,” Epps told Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau. “They’re off in 15 minutes.”

Craig County, Isle of Wight County, James City-County, Mathews County, Poquoson city and Rappahannock County all have 95 percent of their voting-aged population registered — figures that may not be too far from reality, according to local registrars.

Some localities are on the other end of the spectrum, however, when it comes to registration levels. With 50 percent voter registration compared with voting-age population, Harrisonburg has the lowest figure in the state.

Jim Gilchrist, vice chair for the Electoral Board for the city, attributed some of that to a large immigrant population.

“Forty percent of our students in the city schools have ESL, English as a second language, so one can infer from that that their parents probably aren’t eligible to vote, even though they’re counted in the census,” Gilchrist said.

To view the full registration data set by locality, visit Watchdoglabs.org. Look for more stories on the subject next week, as Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau dives into inactive voter lists and more.

— Kathryn Watson