The Virginia State Board of Elections will not request an investigation into a group's voter registration mailings that have led to several hundred complaints in recent weeks.
After hearing from about a dozen speakers at a two-hour meeting Monday, the three-member board opted to take no action on a request from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign for a formal investigation by state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
The board also declined to act on the campaign's request to reject registration forms from the group that had been partially completed before being sent and to review and verify two months' worth of voter registrations.
Many Virginians were left baffled recently when mailings from the Washington-based Voter Participation Center began arriving addressed to already-registered voters, as well as to children, non-citizens, the deceased and family pets.
While the board found no cause to pursue a criminal investigation, it chastised the group for the confusion the mailings have caused.
"I think it's been a fairly sloppy process," said Charles Judd, the board's chairman, who took exception to language on the mailings indicating that records showed the recipients were qualified to vote.
"They're not qualified," he said. "Morris the cat is not qualified."
Judd also expressed concern over the "insensitivity" of the mailings, recounting several complaints the board had received about forms sent to deceased family members, including one to an 8-year-old girl who had died.
"Shame on you," Judd said to the group's representatives.
Scott Thomas, a lawyer for the Voter Participation Center, called the Romney campaign's allegations that the mailings opened the door for voter fraud "careless" and "totally unfounded."
Thomas said the group is implementing 13 protocols to improve its mailing lists, which are obtained from a third-party vendor, and noted that it already has agreed, at the request of the board, to stop filling out its forms with information such as names and addresses.
"We really do want to avoid those kind of heartbreaking problems," he said of Judd's concerns.
Numerous attendees at the packed meeting spoke passionately on both sides of the issue, with two liberal groups -- MoveOn.org and ProgressVA -- presenting thousands of petition signatures asking the board not to seek an investigation or reject any registrations.
Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, said the Romney campaign's requests "amount to an attack on our democracy."
She said the Voter Participation Center has helped register about 16,000 Virginians this year, noting that because there is no official list of unregistered voters in Virginia, there is no way to completely avoid mistakes.
"Mailing-list errors are not an excuse to quash the rights of thousands of eligible Virginians to register and to cast a pall over the important work of getting more people to the polls," she said.
Tom White, a Hanover County resident, urged the board to accede to the Romney campaign's request, suggesting that the problems raise serious questions.
White likened those opposing a probe into the matter to children urging their parents not to check under their beds after being told to clean their rooms.
"Telling us not to look kind of makes me more skeptical," he said. "The voters depend on this board to protect the process, and without an inquiry I don't see how we can make sure there are not questions here."
Ultimately, the board found no evidence of intentional wrongdoing by the group and decided to let the matter rest.
"I see no reason for this investigation based on the evidence that's been provided to us," said Kimberly Bowers, the board's vice chairwoman.
Board Secretary Don Palmer agreed, expressing confidence in the ability of local registrars to weed out registrations that might be submitted on behalf of someone who is ineligible to vote.
There has been one documented instance of a Voter Participation Center form leading to fraud in Virginia. A Louisa County woman who had previously been convicted of a felony registered and voted in the 2008 presidential election.
"Even in the absence of a formal investigation, we are heartened that the group is being forced to stop mailing misleading, pre-populated voter registration forms in Virginia," said Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign.
Page Gardner, president of the Voter Participation Center, said in a statement that the group shared the board's concerns with the accuracy of its lists and that efforts are under way to improve a batch of mailings due out in September.
"This is a win for the citizens of Virginia who want to participate in the democratic process and an affirmation that the VPC program is legal, helpful and essential," she said.
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