Policy

Study: 12 Percent of Voters in Virginia Could Be Registered Illegally

Findings could lead to changes in voting laws

voting booth
Getty Images

Up to 12 percent of registered voters in Virginia could be on the rolls illegally, according to a new white paper circulating among officials at the Department of Justice's front office and members of Congress.

Using data from one Virginia county's jury pools, which are largely drawn from voter registration rolls, the study conducted by the National Election Integrity Task Force, found that 3 percent of the prospective jury pool—a total of 12,917 people—were ineligible to serve due to self-reporting as non-citizens, who are not allowed to vote under federal law. One percent self-reported as convicted felons, who are also ineligible to vote. An additional 2 percent were "likely unlawful participants due to self-reporting as non-English speaking," and another 6 percent "are worthy of further investigation due to the undeliverability, and non-response, to the solicitation for jury duty, which is a crime in Virginia."

Taken together and extrapolating the data, the authors estimate up to 12 percent of voters in the entire state of Virginia could be registered illegally. "At this point in time, the entire Virginia voting roll should be considered untrustworthy and invalid," the paper argues.

The study calls for a federal audit of the Virginia voter registration rolls and Department of Justice enforcement of voter ID laws on a state level. It comes at a time when President Donald Trump and administration officials have been raising alarms about illegal ballot activity in the 2020 election. Earlier this month, Trump said he would oppose a funding increase for the U.S. Postal Service due to concerns about fraud in universal mail-in voting.

Attorney General William Barr's chief of staff's office and seven Republican members of Congress have been briefed on the findings, which has prompted "executive and legislative branch discussions," according to the NEITF.

One of the study's authors, John Mills, a former Department of Defense director for cybersecurity policy, said the study's findings indicate that there are ineligible voters who have been registered to vote in the state.

"The point of fraud is at registration, so once you're registered you're in the system," said Mills.

The NEITF is a group of former national security officials, public officials and attorneys that was founded by Mills last year to investigate voter fraud in Virginia and other states. Members include former acting secretary of the Air Force Tidal W. "Ty" McCoy, former New Jersey mayor Mario Kranjac and former Virginia prosecutor Tim Griffin.

The data in the white paper were based on background questionnaires filled out by prospective jurors in Virginia's 31st circuit court, which covers Prince William County on the border of Washington, D.C. The jury pool is largely drawn from county voter registration rolls, although the circuit court said it also uses data from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

Until Monday, the circuit court's website said jurors were "randomly selected from the Voter Registration Lists" in the county. When contacted by the Washington Free Beacon, the circuit court's elected Democratic clerk Jacqueline C. Smith said she instituted a new policy in 2017 and now uses both voting registration rolls and DMV records to select jurors. Smith updated the website to reflect this change on Monday.

Smith said she was unable to provide a breakdown of how many jurors are chosen from the voter registration list versus the DMV list.

"We aren't able to track that data as all selections are random," said Smith. "The two data sets are made into one, eliminating duplicate entries, and an algorithm is used to make a random selection."

There was no significant difference between self-reported non-citizens in the 2016 jury pool data and the 2017 and 2018 data that included DMV lists. Two prospective jurors said they were non-citizens in 2016, versus one in 2017 and five in 2018, according to county records.

However, the number of self-reported non-citizens in the 2019 jury pool spiked to 352, according to county records. The number of felons in the jury pool also jumped to 117 in 2019, up from 14, 4, and 12 during the three prior years.

Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who has studied voter fraud, said there are some other challenges when it comes to drawing conclusions from jury pool data.

"In this case it may well be that people want to get out of jury service so they'll lie about their citizenship rather than face the prospect of having to serve in a jury," he said.

But Gaines noted that there is a higher potential for voter fraud in the upcoming election due to increased reliance on mail-in ballots.

"It's not a secret or secure ballot, and it's almost guaranteed there will be somewhat more fraud," said Gaines.

One member of the task force, former Virginia prosecutor Tim Griffin, said the study was an attempt to understand voter turnout changes in the state, which previously leaned Republican but has shifted blue in recent years. Virginia saw 42 percent voter turnout in 2019, up from 29 percent in the last off-year election in 2015. He said most of this increase appears to come from Northern Virginia.

"It's just odd trends that we're seeing from Northern Virginia," said Griffin. "I think that it's past time that somebody in Virginia has taken a look at how the voter rolls are filled out."