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PolitiFact: Posts about Virginia voters being forced to sign forms at polls distort state election protocols

Sign dispalying voting hours
A polling place in Chesterfield County on Election Day, 2020. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

People worried about election fraud or election errors in Virginia’s governor’s race are claiming that voters were being turned away and told they requested absentee ballots when they didn’t.

The claim is attributed to a man named Patrick M. Byrne, the CEO of a nonprofit called The America Project, which says it supports election integrity and that it hopes "patriots around the country who are concerned about the integrity of our elections will rise up and contribute to the cause." 

In the post, Byrne appears to be re-sharing a story on Telegram about an unidentified man and his wife who claim that, in order to vote, they were forced to sign an affidavit that said they lost their absentee ballots when they didn’t request them in the first place. The message has since been replicated on other social media platforms.

It starts off the "Word from Virginia" before launching into the alleged account.

"My wife and I went for early voting in Virginia today, and something very disturbing happened," the post says. "We were both told we couldn't vote since we had requested and been sent absentee ballots. Since we had done nothing of the sort, we raised hell and they finally produced affidavits we could sign saying that we had lost the ballots we requested. We demanded affidavits saying that we had never requested absentee ballots and absentee ballots had never been received by us. We were told there was no such thing. We could either sign the affidavits saying we had lost the ballots we had requested or go home without voting. We signed.

"During the time we were there and engaged in this dispute, a matter of about 15 minutes, I overheard THREE other people going through exactly the same thing."

The message ends on a conspiratorial note, stating that the couple lives in a "heavily Democrat-controlled precinct" in a Democrat-controlled state and suggests this wasn’t a coincidence and that the election process is corrupt.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The names of the people involved or the precinct where the incident allegedly occurred were not listed. We reached out to The American Project for more details but did not hear back.

State election officials said that any mix-ups at precincts may be due to a new law that made annual absentee ballot requests permanent, of which people could opt out. Meanwhile, Virginia’s Department of Elections told PolitiFact that it hasn’t received any reports related to the account. 

"We are not aware of any complaints of that type," said external affairs manager Andrea Gaines.

"Every absentee ballot must be requested using an application," she added. "You can make that request on paper or online. The paper application can be reviewed. If it is requested online, the applicant must provide date of birth, registration address, (Social Security number), and driver's license number." 

Virginia election officials offer a guide to help poll workers assist voters with uncommon situations and page 28 references the protocol for polling places dealing with such scenarios. 

It says that if a voter’s name in the pollbook or final absentee list shows a status of "issued" or "unmarked" before election day, the worker should call the election office to ask if the voter returned an unmarked ballot. 

If the answer is yes, the voter can cast a vote at the precinct. If no ballot was returned, or if the worker can’t reach the office, the voter may complete a form titled, "Statement of Voter to be Used when Absentee Ballot Not Received or Lost." This is applicable if the voter says they lost or didn’t receive their ballot. 

The guide says if the voter signs and completes this form, they are able to vote using a replacement ballot. If the voter doesn’t want to sign the form, they can cast a provisional ballot, which is used to record a vote when there are questions about a voter's eligibility that must be resolved before the vote can count.

Previously, voters in Virginia were able to request absentee ballots not just for the current election, but for all elections in that calendar year. 

Scott Konopasek, director of elections for Fairfax County, the largest in the state, said that any mix-ups at precincts may be due to a new law that went into effect in July that made those requests permanent.

"The law changed this year that changed all of those annual absentee ballot requests to a permanent request," Konopasek said. "We sent notices that told voters that this was going to happen and that they could opt out, and we gave instructions to do that."

"Several thousand did," he added "but these people may not have understood what was going on and their ballot request was retained as a permanent request."

Our ruling

A viral post on social media claims a Virginia couple was told at a voting precinct that they had to sign an affidavit saying they lost their absentee ballots — ones they claim they didn’t apply for — in order to vote in-person.

There is no identifying information about the couple or the precinct where this allegedly happened, and Virginia’s Department of Elections said it isn’t aware of any related complaints. An election official said a new state law that made annual absentee ballots requests permanent may be the reason for any mix-ups at precincts. 

Regardless, this is not evidence of something nefarious or corrupt. A similar scenario is outlined in a Virginia guide for poll workers. Before an election, if voters are listed in the pollbook as having a voter status of "issued" or "unmarked," they can complete a form that says their absentee ballot wasn’t received or is lost. Then, they can vote using a replacement ballot. Voters can also cast a provisional ballot if they refuse to fill out the form.

The post presents an element of truth but leaves out critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Telegram post, Oct. 27, 2021
Facebook post, Oct. 27, 2021
What to do when ... A complete guide for helping voters with exceptional situations, Accessed Oct. 29, 2021
Code of Virginia, § 24.2-703.1. Permanent absentee voter list, Accessed Oct. 29, 2021
Email interview with Andrea Gaines, external affairs manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, Oct. 29, 2021
Phone interview, Scott Konopasek, director of elections for Fairfax County, Oct. 29, 2021