Controversy over the Voter Participation Center's Voter Registration Efforts in Virginia
This controversy developed in July-August 2012; the crux of the issue was pre-populated voter registration forms.

About Us
The Voter Participation Center (VPC) is a research-driven, results-oriented nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing the participation and amplifying the voices of unmarried women (women who are single, widowed, divorced or separated) and other historically underrepresented groups in our democracy. The mission of the VPC is to boost the civic engagement of unmarried women, people of color and 18-29 year olds—the three demographic groups who comprise the Rising American Electorate (RAE). These Americans make up 53% of the voting-eligible population and are responsible for almost all of the U.S. population growth in recent years, but were only 42 percent of the 2010 electorate and 47% in 2008.

The VPC is committed to registering and mobilizing these voters during elections and public policy debates at levels that reflect their growing demographic strength and importance. The RAE is the fastest growing demographic group in America accounting for 81 percent of population growth between 2000 and 2010 and 95 percent between 2008 and 2010. But their electoral and policy involvement has not kept pace. That is why the VPC conducts groundbreaking research and develops and implements effective registration and mobilization programs and innovative approaches to help millions more unmarried women, people of color and young people become active participants in our democracy. The VPC is committed to year-round civic engagement that builds an infrastructure of citizens who take an active role in ensuring a representative democracy. The work of the VPC does not end with Election Day, it is just beginning.

The VPC was formerly known as Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV). The name was formally changed in 2011 to reflect the fact the organization expanded its focus beyond its original emphasis on unmarried women to include the entire RAE. Unmarried women make up a large portion of the RAE and marital status is a top determinant of whether or not one registers, votes, and participates; the name change was also adopted because the same approaches used for unmarried women also work among and across the entire spectrum of the RAE.

PRESS RELEASE from the Voter Participation Center
August 6th, 2012
The Voter Participation Center Asks the VA Board of Elections to Reject Baseless Romney Campaign Demands

Romney wants 16,000 valid VPC-generated voter registration applications tossed out

Washington, DC (August 6, 2012) — The Voter Participation Center (VPC) is asking the Virginia State Board of Elections (VSBOE) to deny demands from the Romney for President campaign that could result in the rejection of 16,000 valid voter registration applications from qualified Virginians. Such an action could chill efforts by civic engagement groups to provide an important public service – getting more people on the voter rolls.

The General Counsel of the Romney campaign has asked the Virginia Attorney General and the state Board of Elections to investigate the VPC’s lawful voter registration efforts, and has urged the state to throw out VPC-generated “pre-populated” registration applications and to review all such applications received in the last two months.

The Voter Participation Center strongly believes that the call for an investigation is unmerited. There is no legal basis to review or reject any of the applications submitted or to throw out applications based on forms previously approved by the State Board of Elections. We urge the Board of Elections to reject calls for an investigation because:

• The VPC sends valid voter registration applications, just like those available at the DMV or on the state’s own website, to an individual that it believes is unregistered to vote.

• The VSBOE reviewed and approved the VPC forms. No mailing is sent without the proper review of the appropriate elections officials.

• The VPC used the technique of “pre-populating” the forms it sent to 197,000 Virginians believed to be unregistered, filling in names and addresses in order to streamline the completion of forms, eliminate entry errors created by handwriting and encourage more people to fill out the forms.

• The VSBOE did ask that VPC not continue this practice in future mailings. Though the VPC does not agree that any statutory or regulatory language requires this approach, VPC has agreed not to pre-populate the forms in its September mailings.

• No government body provides a list of unregistered voters or a complete list of people who are deceased (even the Social Security Administration’s recent list failed to include more than 1 million names) and no state provides a list of those ineligible to register. This puts the burden on civic engagement groups like the VPC to build its own list using data from commercial vendors and state voter files – which are known to contain errors. (In fact, a recent study by the Pew Commission on the States concluded that one-in-eight of all names are inaccurately included in state voter files). Given the flaws in the source lists, errors in the VPC mailing list are inevitable.

• The VPC is constantly working to improve the process it uses to screens its lists of unregistered citizens so they will be as accurate as possible. In fact, VPC will implement 13 list-protocol improvements before mailing more than four million voter registration applications in September.

• The VPC has specialized in helping people register through the use of mail-in registration forms. This is a process that has been authorized and encouraged in federal and state law for years. It is a time-proven method that provides a convenient and cost-effective way to register to vote and to expand and strengthen our democracy. Since 2004, the VPC has helped register over 1.5 million Americans. This cycle the VPC has been responsible for 420,000 Americans, including 16,000 Virginians, sending in voter registration applications – a substantial portion of new registration applications submitted in Virginia.

We urge the VSBOE to reject the Romney request and ensure that the VPC and its allies can continue to open up democracy to all eligible citizens by encouraging them to register and vote.

Regardless of the VSBOE’s decision, the Voter Participation Center plans to continue our work helping qualified Virginians exercise their most American of rights – the right to vote.

PRESS RELEASE from from Advancement Project
August 6, 2012
Virginia State Board of Elections Meeting
Statement of Katie O’Connor, Staff Attorney

Good morning. My name is Katie O’Connor and I am a staff attorney with Advancement Project, a non-partisan voting rights organization with a program in Virginia that works to ensure that all eligible voters have a right to vote. I am here today to testify in support of the Voter Participation Center and against any efforts to obstruct the important work that they do. As you know, the Romney for President campaign has asked this board to refer the Voter Participation Center to the Attorney General for a criminal investigation, has requested the board to direct county registrars to reject voter registration forms that originated with VPC, and has asked the board to review all registered voters who registered in the last two months. We at Advancement Project strongly object to these requests.

The VPC does valuable and important work to engage the millions of eligible but unregistered voters in America by mailing them voter registration applications. It is then up to the prospective voter to submit the application and up to the election authority to process the application in compliance with state and federal law. The VPC is a well respected, non-partisan, research-driven organization dedicated to increasing democratic participation by getting applications to the people who need them. The VPC’s registration, turnout and mobilization programs have been incredibly effective. In 2008, for instance,87.8% of the 946,822 applicants who used VPC forms were successful registrants and 77% of them voted.

The Romney campaign has asked this board to direct county registrars to reject voter registration forms that have been pre-populated by VPC. Nothing in the Virginia Code or the SBE regulations would support their request and this is nothing more than an attempt to undercut the group’s legitimate efforts to help unregistered citizens register to vote. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-417 clearly states that a registrar “shall register every resident of his county or city who has the qualifications required by the Constitution of Virginia and this title and who applies … at the time and in the manner required by law.” Processing of registration forms, and registering the qualified voters who complete those forms, is a mandatory function of the registrars and registrars do not have discretion to do otherwise.

Registrars also lack the authority to reject voter registration forms based on the pre-population of some of the fields thereon. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-418 requires the applicant to “provide” the information requested on the form and, unless she has a physical disability, to sign the form. There is no explicit prohibition on pre-populating forms or on receiving assistance in completing forms and state law strictly dictates the reasons an application may be rejected. The 2012 Virginia General Registrar and Electoral Board Manual lists the following reasons for denying a voter registration application: the applicant provided incomplete information on the application; the applicant provided information that indicates he is not qualified to register (e.g., too young, convicted felon, or not a citizen); the applicant did not sign the application; there is reason to believe that the applicant has not yet moved to the address given; there is reason to believe that the applicant no longer lives at the address given; or the registrar determines the applicant matches a prohibited voter record. Thus, there is no legal basis for denying registration due to the pre-population of fields on an applicant’s registration form.

The Romney campaign also wants the Board to investigate every person who has registered in the last two months, but this too would be illegal. Under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), once a registrant has been deemed eligible to vote based on the information on her registration form, she may not be removed from the registration rolls except at her own request or by reason of a felony conviction, mental incapacity, death, or change of residence. 42 U.S.C. § 1973gg-6(a)(3) and (4). Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-427 mirrors this federal mandate and does not allow for cancellation of registration unless certain procedures are followed. Without individualized information that raises a question about a voter’s eligibility, an investigation into her eligibility is unwarranted and her removal from the registration rolls following such an investigation would be illegal. Moreover, we acknowledge and commend the diligence and determination of local officials who seek to ensure that we have an expanded electorate that reflects the diversity of our nation – one voter registration application at a time. It is simply outrageous for the Romney campaign and, in turn, the board to add unreasonable and unnecessary new burdens on the shoulders of conscientious local election officials at this eleventh hour before a presidential election.

Finally, without exhibiting any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the Romney campaign has asked the board to refer the Voter Participation Center to the Virginia Attorney General for criminal investigation. A criminal investigation into the work of the VPC would serve only to intimidate this and other organizations that seek to register new voters. The VPC and organizations like it are making it easier to register to vote by getting registration applications in the hands of people who need them. They have broken no laws. A recent report issued by the Pew Center on the States found that over 51 million eligible Americans, or nearly 25%, are not registered to vote. This stunning statistic should be the focus of our collective energies. Instead of harassing non-profit organizations seeking to help register Virginia voters, the board should be encouraging unregistered
voters to participate in the democratic process.

Thank you.

STATEMENT from Romney for President
August 6, 2012

Romney for President Statement Regarding Virginia State Board of Elections Meeting

Today, Romney for President released the following statement regarding the Virginia State Board of Elections meeting concerning the Voter Participation Center’s voter registration mailings:

“The Voter Participation Center has already admitted its misconduct, and we are glad that the State Board of Elections quickly convened a meeting on the issue.   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. 

“The Romney campaign supports efforts by private groups to register all those who are eligible to vote.  Such organizations must take responsibility to ensure that they conform to the letter and spirit of the law.  Unfortunately, the Voter Participation Center’s conduct has not met this standard to date.“ – Amanda Henneberg, Romney Campaign Spokesperson

STATEMENT from The Voter Participation Center
July 25th, 2012
Statement from Page Gardner Concerning Romney for President’s request in Virginia

Attempts by the Romney for President Campaign to block voter registration efforts in Virginia “may rise to the level of interference with legitimate voter registration efforts contrary to applicable state and federal laws,” the Voter Participation Center (VPC) said today in a letter to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.

The VPC today asked the Attorney General to refuse the Romney for President Campaign’s request to investigate completely lawful efforts by the VPC to register Virginians.  The VPC also asked the Attorney General to deny the Campaign’s request that State Board of Elections officials direct registrars to refuse to accept official, state approved voter registration applications submitted by eligible voters in the Commonwealth.

“The Romney campaign’s request for a probe into over 15 thousand returned legal and state-approved registration application forms is part of a blatant and ongoing partisan effort to keep people from voting, “ explained VPC founder and president Page Gardner.  “We see it everywhere –voter purges in Florida, Texas and Colorado; onerous voter ID laws, which Pennsylvania State GOP House Leader Mike Turzai recently admitted serve no purpose other than to elect Republicans.  We will fight these efforts to disenfranchise voters in Virginia and in every other state.”

Seventy-three (73) million Americans are unregistered in American today. This is a national disgrace.

The Voter Participation Center is a non-partisan, non-profit that focuses on registering and turning out the Rising American Electorate – unmarried women, people of color and young voters – who account for 53 percent of voting eligible citizens but who represent 63 percent of all  unregistered Americans.

The VPC has helped register more than 1.5 million voters since it began in 2004.  Since September 2011, the VPC has mailed out almost 7 million voter registration applications in 30 states.  Those applications were reviewed prior to mailing by elections officials, including in Virginia where they were reviewed by officials in the State Board of Elections office.  More than 400,000 Americans returned those applications to elections officials.  The VPC plans to add to these totals with another 5.3 million piece mailing in early September.

“The new majority in America frightens some political groups because these are the voters they want to keep from the polls on November 6.  It’s no surprise that our organization – which is conducting the largest mail registration program in the country – is under attack.  But we have no intention of backing down.  At a time when states have limited programs or resources to educate and register voters, efforts like ours, the League of Women Voters and other civic engagement groups have never been more important.”

[below are texts of the letters]

TEXT OF LETTER from Romney for President to VA Attorney General and Board of Elections

July 24, 2012


Kenneth Cuccinelli
Office of the Attorney General
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Charles Judd State
Board of Elections
1100 Bank Street
Washington Building, First Floor,
Richmond, VA 23219

Re: Voter Participation Center

Dear Attorney General Cuccinelli and Chairman Judd:

We write regarding the recent disturbing revelations that an allegedly non-profit group— dubiously named the “Voter Participation Center”—has been mailing voter registration forms to Virginia addresses, pre-populated with names and/or information belonging to the recipients’ dead relatives, minor children, non-citizen relatives, already registered voters, convicted felons, and cats and dogs. According to the Secretary of the State Board of Elections, “hundreds, if not thousands, of applications were delivered to those ineligible to vote.”1    This presents a very significant risk to the proper administration of the upcoming general election.

We understand and appreciate that the State Board of Elections (SBE) has attempted to convince this group to stop pursuing tactics that amount to, or at the very least induce, voter registration fraud. However, given the seriousness of the problem identified here, we request that several additional steps be taken:

First, we request that this matter be referred to and investigated by an appropriate law enforcement official. The conduct of the Voter Participation Center likely violates at least one and maybe several Virginia laws aimed at ensuring a fair election.

•    Virginia makes it a felony to “intentionally solicit[] multiple registrations from any one person or intentionally falsif[y] a registration application.” Va. Code § 24.2-1002.01.

•    Virginia prohibits “willfully false material statement[s] or entr[ies] made by any person” on a voter registration form. Va. Code § 24.2-1016.

•    Virginia prohibits “communicat[ing] . . . false information” to a registered voter, including false information regarding the voter’s registration status. Va. Code § 24.2- 1005.1.

•    Virginia makes it a felony to persuade a voter to provide false information on his/her voter registration application. Va. Code §§ 18.2-29 and 24.2-1004.

By sending pre-populated voter registration applications to persons (and animals) not eligible to vote, the Voter Participation Center is likely in violation of one or more of these laws. The Center’s conduct is all the more troubling because the Center’s materials affirmatively tell mailing recipients that “records show that you are eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election.”2

Second, we request that the SBE require the Registrars to reject pre-populated voter registration applications that originate from the Voter Participation Center.3    We agree with the SBE’s view that Virginia law requires the voter—not a third party registration group—to fill out his or her own voter registration application.4    And the many inaccuracies in the Voter Participation Center’s pre-populated voter registration applications render the Center’s forms inherently unreliable.

Third, we request that the SBE collect the names of all persons registered in the last 2 months, and perform a review of those persons’ eligibility to be registered and to vote. This is the only way for voters and other interested parties to regain confidence in the voter registration and electoral process that has been abused by the Voter Participation Center.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at [phone number redacted] if you wish to discuss this issue. We appreciate your attention to this important matter.


Kathryn Biber, General Counsel
Lee Rudofsky, Deputy General Counsel

1 See deceased-receive-forms-to-vote-in-va-ar-2074543/.
2 Id.
3 We understand from conversations with the Registrars that the Voter Participation Center’s pre- populated forms can be readily identified because the Center is using registration forms of their own creation.
4 Id.

TEXT OF LETTER from Dickstein Shapiro LLP to Romney for President

July 25, 2012

Via First Class Mail and Email (

Ms. Kathryn Biber
General Counsel
Romney for President, Inc.
585 Commercial Street
Boston, MA 02109

Re:    The Voter Participation Center’s Efforts to Increase Voter Registration in Virginia

Dear Ms. Biber:

I write on behalf of the Voter Participation Center (VPC) in response to your July 24, 2012 letter to the Virginia Office of the Attorney General and State Board of Elections. The Voter Participation Center is astounded that the Romney campaign would make such blatantly false allegations. It is also astounded that you would call for an investigation into completely lawful voter registration efforts and that you would ask the State Board of Elections to direct registrars to refuse to accept official, state approved voter registration applications submitted by eligible voters in the Commonwealth. We have sent the attached letter to the Virginia Attorney General to clarify any misconceptions caused by your letter.

The VPC’s sole purpose and focus is to facilitate registration of as many Americans who are eligible to vote as possible. Since its founding in 2004, this nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization has registered over 1.5 million voters in this country. The VPC’s 2012 mailings continue to assist Virginia registrants in navigating the registration process and casting their votes – 15,000 people in the Commonwealth already have returned their applications to elections officials as a result of the VPC’s June mailing. I would be pleased to address any remaining questions you may have about the organization and its important efforts to increase electoral participation in our democracy.


Peter J. Kadzik

[phone number redacted]

TEXT OF LETTER from Dickstein Shapiro LLP to Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli

July 25, 2012

Via First Class Mail

The Honorable Kenneth Cuccinelli
Office of the Attorney General
Commonwealth of Virginia
900 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Re:    The Voter Participation Center’s Efforts to Increase Voter Registration in Virginia

Dear Attorney General Cuccinelli:

I write on behalf of the Voter Participation Center (VPC) in response to the July 24, 2012 letter you received from the Romney for President campaign (attached). The Voter Participation Center is astounded that the Romney campaign would ask you to investigate completely lawful voter registration efforts. The VPC is also astounded that the Romney campaign would ask the Virginia State Board of Elections to direct registrars to refuse to accept official, state approved voter registration applications submitted by eligible voters in the Commonwealth. In fact, these actions by the Romney campaign may rise to the level of interference with legitimate voter registration efforts contrary to applicable state and federal laws. We respectfully request that your office advise the Romney campaign that it cannot take any actions to interfere with the valid, state approved registration efforts of a legitimate non-profit organization and the right of eligible citizens in the Commonwealth to register and vote.

The Romney campaign has made blatantly false accusations about the VPC’s efforts based on incomplete and inaccurate information regarding the VPC’s mailings and state approval process. We sincerely hope that this letter clarifies the facts about the important work of this organization.

VPC Registration Mailings: The Romney campaign’s characterization of the VPC as “an allegedly non-profit group” with a “dubious” name is simply wrong. The VPC is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization that aims to increase voter registration among under-represented segments of the American electorate. The VPC attempts to reduce the staggering number of unregistered citizens in this country – over 73 million Americans – by sending them official voter registration applications by mail, which applicants return directly to state and local election officials. The VPC does not collect or in any way solicit registration applications. The VPC simply mails the official forms to potential applicants who can choose to fill them out and submit directly to elections officials if and when they decide to register to vote.

The VPC has registered over 1.5 million people nationwide since its founding in 2004 and mailed registration applications in close to 30 states in June 2012. As part of the June mailing, the VPC sent official applications – the same applications anyone can obtain at a local government agency or access on the Internet – to close to 200,000 potential registrants in Virginia to increase registration rates in the Commonwealth. As a result of this mailing, over 15,000 Virginians have returned their voter registration applications to state and local election officials.

Approval Process: In Virginia and all states in which the VPC mails, the organization works closely with election officials to review the mailings in advance, provide edits and input, ensure that the mailings comply with the format and procedure required under the law and obtain state approval before finalizing the pieces. We have worked cooperatively with the Virginia State Board of Elections on multiple mailings, including the June pieces, to incorporate the Board’s suggestions. We sincerely appreciate their assistance, input and approval.

Pre-Population: As we have discussed with the Virginia State Board of Elections, the VPC pre- populates applicants’ names and addresses in its mailings to expedite and simplify the application process for potential voters. Pre-population greatly improves response rates and applicants have the opportunity to correct any information pre-populated on the form by simply crossing out any incorrect information and writing in the correct information. As noted, we worked cooperatively with the Board to review and approve the pre-populated June mailings before they reached homes.

While working with the Board to finalize the VPC’s upcoming September mailings, the Board requested that the VPC no longer pre-populate the forms in future mailings. Despite the higher response rates and ease of registration for voters, the VPC cooperated fully with the Board. As soon as the Board asked the VPC to remove all pre-populated information from the name and address fields, we did so. The VPC’s September 2012 registration mailings will not contain any pre-populated information.

Mailing Lists: Please be advised that the VPC makes every reasonable effort to make sure that the lists used to identify eligible recipients are accurate and up to date. Unfortunately, no list is perfect, and occasionally names of pets or otherwise ineligible voters appear on the list. The VPC certainly does not intend to mail to already registered or ineligible voters, deceased individuals or pets. Virginia citizens who receive an application that is addressed to someone who is ineligible to register (including themselves) should simply discard it.

Meanwhile, state and local elections officials must follow through with their responsibility to process the applications submitted by eligible voters. As noted, the forms used by the VPC are identical in all material respects to the forms available on the Board’s website (and in various government offices throughout the Commonwealth), and elections officials cannot decline to process the forms based on the mere fact that some mailings may have been mistakenly sent to ineligible voters.

The VPC’s sole purpose and focus is to facilitate registration of as many Americans who are eligible to vote as possible, and then to educate them about the means and reasons for voting. Campaigns should be encouraging more people to register and vote, not blocking the way. We will continue our productive discussions with election officials so as to advance the important work of increasing, not decreasing, electoral participation in our democracy.


Peter J. Kadzik

[phone number redacted]