Virginia announces a new data sharing agreement with Georgia after leaving the nonpartisan voting information group WABE

Months after withdrawing from an interstate data-sharing agreement to combat voter fraud, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration announced Wednesday a series of new steps it has taken to improve the accuracy of the state’s voter rolls.

This includes establishing new, individual data sharing agreements with five other states and Washington, D.C., the Virginia Department of Elections said in a news release. The six agreements will allow Virginia to “securely compare voter rolls” with Washington, Georgia, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia and “identify potential voter fraud” and duplicate registrations, the Election Department said in a news release.

“Safe elections start with accurate voter rolls,” Elections Commissioner Susan Beals said Wednesday, two days before early voting begins in this year’s general election. “Virginia now updates our voter list using data sourced directly from one-to-one data sharing agreements with neighboring states and partnerships with state and federal agencies.”

While the department in its press release and a recent annual report called the new agreements and other initiatives improvements over the work of previous administrations, Democrats argued they are not a replacement for participation in the nonpartisan Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which Virginia operates in Left in May.

“It is undoubtedly not as good as ERIC. There are simply fewer states involved,” said Aaron Mukerjee, attorney and voter protection director for the Virginia Democratic Party.

Virginia was one of the founding members when ERIC was created in 2012, an initiative promoted by then-Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell. It’s a voluntary system designed to help about two dozen member states maintain accurate lists of registered voters by sharing data that allows officials to identify and remove people who have died or moved to other states.

ERIC also found itself in the crosshairs of conspiracy theories fueled by former President Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 presidential election.

Beals in May cited several reasons for the decision to terminate the state’s membership. These included the recent defections of then-seven other GOP-led states, cost concerns, incomplete participation from Virginia’s bordering states and “increasing concerns about the management, preservation, privacy and confidentiality” of voter information. She said Virginia would look for other ways to “work with states in a non-political way” on the issue.

Andrea Gaines, a spokeswoman for the department, responded to questions from The Associated Press about the new data-sharing arrangements: “The process of sharing voter rolls between states is underway and meetings have taken place between those states’ IT teams.”

She did not respond to a question about the estimated annual cost of the new rule.

Neighboring states North Carolina and Maryland are not among those with which Virginia has a data sharing agreement. But the department has reached out to all of its border states to initiate voter list comparisons, as required by state law, Gaines said.

In addition to the new arrangements, the department conducted “for the first time ever” change-of-address mailings to voters who may have moved.

“The mailings took place in February and July 2023 and resulted in a record 260,653 inactive voters. ELECT immediately placed these voters in inactive status and began the process to remove them from the voter rolls as required by the National Voter Registration Act,” the release said.

Voters with inactive status can still vote in the upcoming election but will be asked to update their registration, Gaines said.

“If a voter remains in inactive status for four years, he or she will be removed from the voter rolls in accordance with federal law,” she wrote.

The department is also collecting license plate return data from “more states than ever before,” the release said, and will use it to contact voters who may have left Virginia and provide them with information about how they Can cancel their voter registration.

The agency also said it conducted a historical audit of death certificates dating back to 1960 and deleted the registrations of 77,348 dead voters in the past 12 months.

Virginia voters can check their registration status online.