As Chesterfield Election officials are in the center of a federal lawsuit, NBC12 is uncovering exactly who is behind the lawsuit, and why it matters to the upcoming election.
A nonprofit called the Public Interest Legal Foundation filed the lawsuit against Larry Haake, the registrar in Chesterfield, on Tuesday.
The suit states that in August of 2016, the foundation asked to "inspect and duplicate election records related to foreigners who registered to vote in Chesterfield County."
The foundation hopes to cross-reference those election records with data from the census and DMV to see if there are more people registered to vote than eligible citizens. However, that discrepancy can come from people who have passed away, moved away after registering, or registered in another locality.
The foundation admits that more than 1,000 people removed from voter rolls in other Virginia counties for citizenship problems were automatically removed before the foundation even filed a request.
"If you look at what they found, they had been excluded through the automatic process not through the process this organization is looking for," explained Dr. Deirdre Condit, NBC12 News political analyst.
The process in place seems to be working to cut down on any type of voter fraud.
So, why hasn't Chesterfield provided documents? The lawsuit shows back in September, the registrar told the group to file the request with the State Department of Elections. Haake told NBC12 he didn't even know about the lawsuit until it was filed Tuesday.
"It claims the status of a nonprofit but has a clear political agenda," said Condit about the foundation.
On paper, the Public Interest Legal Foundation claims it is dedicated to election integrity, but political experts disagree.
"They're trying to manipulate the public's perception of the legitimacy of the election," said Condit.
Look no further than the Board of Directors to determine the group's political affiliation; the president of the group is a former Department of Justice official who took legal action against Hillary Clinton's brother in the early 2000s.
"The people who seem to support that foundation turn around and make arguments about the illegitimacy of the election, this is a way of trying to fill in evidence of the illegitimacy of the election," suggested Dr. Condit. She added, "there's a deep cynicism here because under the guise of them protecting the voter, they're actually trying to dissuade voters."
So, what does this mean for next week's election?
"If you can get people questioning 'why does my vote matter if it is all rigged anyways', then you suppress voter turnout," said Conduit.
And that matters because historically higher voter turnout means a higher number of democratic voters. Political experts believe this group is targeting Virginia specifically because it is such a key swing state in next week's presidential election.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a similar lawsuit against the city of Alexandria earlier this year. The voter registration and elections department stated on Oct. 167 that, "the registrar's office has provided PILF/VVA with all the information that the organizations have requested (and would have done so without the need for a federal lawsuit). In addition, the Alexandria Office of Voter Registration and Elections follows state and federal law when it comes to maintenance of the voter registration list."
The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court in June 2016 because the foundation "failed to show a specific problem with the way Alexandria manages its voter rolls."
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