WASHINGTON – As Republicans across the country insist more laws are needed to protect electoral integrity, Republicans in Virginia have found themselves in a voter identification quagmire.
At stake is a decision to quietly allow voters to participate in their complicated primary process even if they left parts of the application blank, including mandatory fields requesting their voter ID number issued by the State and signature, according to documents and audio recording. of a call obtained exclusively by NBC News.
Republicans across the state say the nominating competition has been a logistical nightmare.
And it comes as the Republican Party has widely embraced President Donald Trump’s baseless rallying cry that rampant fraud has cost him the election. He insisted that every signature on a ballot posted in Georgia be verified, for example.
Today, Republicans in Virginia face questions from their own party about enforcing voter security measures – fueled by their decision to run their convention on their own, forcing them to design their own apps and approval systems.
“He’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ in the Virginia GOP right now,” said former Republican congressman Denver Riggleman, who lost a Republican state convention last year that he and his allies felt they had been rigged against him after being criticized for officiating – a sexual marriage. “This is all very ironic.”
In addition to party complications, votes at the convention will be weighted by city or county. And the process is ranked by choice, meaning delegates will rank their preferences among the seven candidates listed on the ballot, which will then be hand-counted in a central location under armed guard, which is expected to take several days.
“There is still a lot of confusion among the everyday Republican voter,” said Tim Parrish, Prince William County GOP Chairman. “I probably get about 100 questions, no exaggeration, per day.”
Behind closed doors, Republican officials have been battling for weeks over the decision to accept applications to attend the convention without a voter identification number or signature.
“How the hell do you accept an unsigned application?” Clara Belle Wheeler, chair of the Virginia Republican Party’s credentials committee, asked at an April 11 committee meeting, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.
“I don’t know how someone – and I don’t care who it is – thinks you can submit an application form that isn’t signed. It’s unheard of,” Wheeler continued. “I don’t care if you order tulips. Bulbs from the bulb company, or you sign your voter registration application. It needs to be signed.”
Several committee members agreed.
“We all yell at what Democrats aren’t asking for and we’re doing the same here. It’s crazy, ”said Jill Cook, Virginia GOP secretary.
Under party rules, the final decision should be made with input from the state party’s attorney general, but he had to recuse himself because he works for one of the campaigns.
During the meeting, Wheeler texted Chris Marston, general counsel for the Virginia Republican Party, asking for advice. He quickly responded to say that the party chairman had asked him not to participate, as he is on the payroll of Pete Snyder, one of the main candidates in the race, who has hired many agents involved in the race. process.
“So where are we at?” Cook asked.
“We don’t have legal counsel,” Wheeler replied.
In a contrast of simplicity, Democrats in Virginia will go to the polls on June 8 and simply elect a candidate for a primary. Their voters will need to provide government-issued identification, as required by state law.
Republicans, however, chose to hold a convention – a decision in part because Virginia voters don’t register in a party, so the primaries are open, and the GOP has long argued that Democrats vote in their contests. to try to disrupt their elections.
But to comply with Covid-19 rules against large gatherings, the GOP is hosting an ‘unassembled convention’ that will take place in dozens of places across the Commonwealth and 53,000 delegates are expected to be able to vote without leaving their cars.
To be a delegate, voters had to complete and sign a simple form created by the party with their name and contact information, as well as a voter identification number assigned to them when they registered to vote. The signature line and voter identification number fields have asterisks next to them. A note on the form explains: “An asterisk ‘*’ indicates the required information.”
But many people don’t know their voter ID or registration number – a random nine-digit number that a voter can find by querying a state election website using other personal information, including the last four digits of their social security number.
Some local parties have started to accept forms without a voter identification number or signature. And so, in the end, the State Party allowed them to approve them anyway.
“We received specific direction from the chair of the credentials committee, who would make the final decisions on whether or not to accept someone’s candidacy, that the only two things absolutely necessary are the voter’s name and the address of the voter, ”said Nicholas Proffitt. , Chairman of the Chesapeake Republican Party and member of the party’s State Central Committee.
“So if they did not have a voter number, they will be accepted anyway,” he added. “I wish they had imposed the need for a signature, as it opens the door to a sign-up campaign by a group of people without their knowledge.”
Well-organized campaigns have greatly contributed to the registration of people.
Some campaigns have collected registration forms from supporters and could add the voter ID number to voters’ names, as have local party presidents, who have accepted the forms as both have easy access. to the state electoral database.
“I didn’t know mine either, I had to look for it,” Parrish said. “We’ve been trying since the beginning of things to make it as easy as possible for people to participate.”
But many were still added to the convention list without their voter ID numbers, according to a list of certified delegates obtained by NBC News. More than 5,700 of the 53,000 delegates – over 10% – did not have voter identification numbers, according to the document, which was compiled by the state party.
A spokesperson for the Virginia Republican Party did not respond to a request for comment except to ask how NBC News obtained the list of delegates. The Wheeler, Cook and Snyder campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Photo ID will still be needed when voters show up at their convention site, but some campaigns have expressed concerns about the integrity of the convention, even if every voter produces one piece of ID.
“Of course, every Republican must provide their ID card and voter signature before voting at the May 8 convention – that’s what the RPV delegate form requires,” a spokesperson said. by Glenn Youngkin, another Republican gubernatorial candidate.
Firebrand State Senator Amanda Chase, a candidate for governor who described herself as ‘Trump in the heels’ and was disowned by her own party leaders for comments they described as ” idiot, ”told his supporters not to trust the process.
“DON’T TRUST THE PARTY TO DELIVER ACCURATE RESULTS,” she wrote in a fundraising email to supporters. “Who should you go to for the right results? My campaign and me! My campaign will monitor voting and data entry on election night. If they’re correct, we’ll tell you. If not. not, I’ll be ready to take legal action to force a public count.
Chase, Youngkin and another candidate, former Virginia House chairman Kirk Cox, wrote a joint letter to the party chairman last week raising concerns about the safety of his ballots and his plans to recount, which underwent multiple revisions in the last few weeks before the convention.
“The Republican Party – the party of electoral integrity – must lead by example as it prepares to hold its nomination convention on May 8,” the candidates wrote.
Looking sideways, Democrats see it as the GOP chickens coming home to roost.
Democrats can also, however, take a page from Trump’s playbook, echoing a criticism he repeatedly made when the 2020 Iowa Democratic caucuses turned out to be a debacle.
“If they can’t even run an open and transparent primary process, how can they rule Virginia?” said Manuel Bonder, spokesperson for the Virginia Democratic Party.