There's a battle raging in Virginia and across the nation over who votes in America. Pitted against each other are groups like ours -- the Voter Participation Center, League of Women Voters and other non-profit civic engagement groups working to register more Americans to vote -- and the Romney for President campaign, some lawmakers and conservative groups determined to suppress the vote and make it harder for qualified Americans to participate in our democracy.
This is the big story of the 2012 elections, but the media hasn't realized it yet. The story isn't about a few mail pieces out of 32 million we have sent over the years that unavoidably end up at the wrong house. It's about the trench warfare that's being conducted in Virginia and almost every state over adding or subtracting voters in time for the tight 2012 elections.
For months the VPC has been under intense media scrutiny -- attacked for the minuscule percentage of voter registration applications that have gone astray. And these inevitable errors, the results of inaccuracies included in commercial and state lists, are being used as an excuse to raise the specter of fraud.
The VPC finds unregistered voters, encourages them to engage in our democracy and helps them take the first step toward registration by sending a registration application to their home. It is then up to each applicant to review the form, correct it if it contains any errors, sign under oath attesting to their eligibility, and mail it to the Board of Elections -- where state officials have to review and certify the applicant as eligible. Since the VPC does not complete the voter registration applications and since the VPC does not receive any of the applications it sends out, there is no possible way in which fraud could be committed by the organization.
It's no surprise that the VPC -- which now runs the nation's largest mail registration program -- is under attack. It's because we are good at what we do. Because of our work -- millions of votes have been cast by people who never would have voted. Because of our work almost 1.5 million Americans have been added to the electorate. An independent analysis of VPC voter registration applications submitted to boards of elections in 2008 shows that fully 87.8% were valid applications accepted by boards of elections -- the highest of any organization that registered more than 100,000 voters that year (New Organizing Institute, "Voter Registration Analysis 2008: Evaluating Independent Voter Registration Efforts for the 2008 Cycle," December, 2009, p. 32).
More than 15,700 Virginians, prompted by our mailing, have applied to be added to the voting rolls this past month alone. But the Romney for President campaign is now asking that these legal, state-approved applications be invalidated. Not because there is a problem with the form, not because there is any chance of voter fraud, but because the race in Virginia will be tight, because the people we register -- the unmarried women, people of color and young people who account for 63 percent of unregistered Americans -- are voters the Right wants to keep from the polls on November 6.
The Romney campaign's efforts to disenfranchise 15,700 Virginians is part of a blatant and ongoing effort to keep people from voting 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. They are relentless and exhaustive -- looking for any opportunity to create an advantage -- and that's because they know what's really at stake here: power, money and control of the political, economic and policy direction of our country.