Legislation helps to address problem of misassigned voters

January 24, 2019

Several bills have been introduced to address a problem that surfaced after the 2017 elections, when it was discovered that some voters may have been placed in incorrect districts.  Some of these situations stemmed from human error in the manual assignment of voters to districts within the state’s voter registration system, and some were the result of “edge cases” in which a boundary line between districts or between localities might run through a house.  Some were cases in which the boundary lines between localities were not clear – for example, in situations where a body of water demarcating a boundary has gradually shifted over time.  In some of these more complex cases, some neighboring jurisdictions may have had informal agreements as to where voters resided that did not coincide with the Census block boundaries that must be used to determine voting assignments.  In the latter instances, a change to voter district assignments after a closer review in 2018 meant that some residents who had voted and paid taxes in one locality for years were now determined to be residing in a neighboring locality.

VACo participated in a group of stakeholders convened by Senator Mark Peake over the summer to help develop a mechanism to address situations where there is a discrepancy between a boundary line for a Congressional or state legislative district (based on Census blocks) and the boundary traditionally used by the localities.  SB 1102 (Peake) provides that when these two lines virtually coincide, the legislative district boundary will conform to the boundary line agreed upon between the localities, provided that the localities adopt ordinances with the agreed-upon boundaries and report them to the Census Bureau and several state entities specified in the bill.  The State Board of Elections would have the opportunity to review the adjustments to ensure that the proposed changes were made without fraudulent intent, and a voter would be able to request a review by the general registrar if he or she believed he or she was assigned to the incorrect district.  Localities would have the chance to resolve these voter “appeals” in cases where the district assignment was in question because of a discrepancy in the boundary line between localities.  VACo spoke in support of the bill on January 22 when it was heard in Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and was reported to the Senate floor.

As reported in an earlier Capitol Contact, two related bills, HB 1649 (Fowler) and SB 1594 (Dunnavant), would allow all localities to use GIS maps in making voluntary boundary adjustments.  VACo supports these bills.

SB 1018 (Chase) requires that each locality review voter assignments for correctness by comparing the assignments with a Geographic Information System map, which would be provided by the state unless the locality had its own.  The state would also aid with the review, which must be completed prior to the 2020 general election, upon request.  HB 2760 (Sickles) would require that GIS maps be used in local redistricting and provides that the state Department of Elections would review these maps and the voter district assignments for accuracy and direct any corrections to be made if necessary.  VACo has discussed the bill with the patron and is determining whether a possible amendment might be necessary to provide that the state would assist with the development of GIS maps for localities without in-house GIS capability.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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