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Voting, Ballot Glitches Emerge Across Virginia

Voting Booths
There was strong turnout in this year's off-off year election. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

 Reporters Megan Pauly, Ian Stewart and VPM intern Patrick Larsen contributed to this report.

Virginia Election Commissioner Christopher Piper told members of the media Tuesday morning that everything had been going “fairly smooth” other than “typical” electronic and machine glitches that in most cases were “easily resolved without disruption.” No security threats had been identified by a team of FBI, Homeland Security and police monitoring social media, chat rooms and other channels.

However, Piper detailed a couple of problems with ballots: one in Richmond, and one in Stafford County.

Richmond

One Richmond polling place, the First Presbyterian Church in Richmond’s West End, ran out of ballots for about 15 minutes around 8 a.m. Tuesday morning. That’s because the number of ballots allocated to voters in two different Senate districts that shared the same precinct where swapped.

 The polling place is in a split precinct (precinct 104). Most voters there are registered to vote in the 9th Senate district, while a much smaller number of people there are registered to vote in the 10th Senate district. But when ordering ballots for the polling place, the number of ballots for the two districts got mixed up.

“The problem was, is that those numbers got flipped,” Virginia’s Election Commissioner Christopher Piper said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.

 For the 10th district race, with Republican Senator Glen Sturtevant up against Democratic hopeful Ghazala Hashmi, the church received upwards of 1,500 ballots, while only about 150 ballots were sent to the church for the 9th district race. In that district, Democratic Senator Jennifer McClellan is running against Libertarian Mark Lewis.

That’s why at about 8 a.m., ballots for that race ran out. Election officials say about 1,200 additional ballots were delivered shortly, around 8:14 a.m. However, it’s unclear how many voters were affected.

 The polling timetable is not changing because of the error. Voters still had to be in line at their polling place by 7 p.m. in order to cast a vote. According to election officials, a judge would have to order an extension.

voter badge
(Photo: Crixell Matthews)

Chesterfield

At a precinct in North Chesterfield, early morning voters had to wait longer to cast their ballot due to issues with thumb drives. Travis Crook arrived at the Shenandoah Community Center at 6:30 in the morning to vote but after seeing a line, he decided to try later. 

“It looked like it was probably going to be a while,” Crook said. “There were probably about 40 people in there and I saw people turning around and leaving.” 

The issue was out-of-date thumb drives. These drives connect all three of the precinct’s registration computers to a network that has up-to-date voter information, says Chief Polling Officer Ken Strout. 

“If the thumb drive is the wrong edition or the older one, then the current computers will not accept it,” Strout said.

Strout says people were still able to vote, but they had to manually record and verify voters using an emergency thumb drive system which slowed the process down. He says new thumb drives arrived within 45 minutes. North Courthouse Library had a similar issue with thumb drives but they had enough computers to keep people voting. 

Chesterfield County Registrar Constance Hardgrove says she was notified of the problem.

voters
(Photo: Crixell Matthews)

Stafford, Accomack County Problems

Richmond and Chesterfield County weren’t the only areas affected by polling glitches. Election officials said some voters in Stafford County cast the wrong ballots Tuesday morning because they were given the wrong ballots.

Election officials couldn’t say Tuesday morning how many ballots were cast incorrectly. The issue is still under investigation.

This isn’t the first time voters in Stafford County received incorrect ballots. In 2017, 147 votes across three House races were cast incorrectly as a result of a database error. In that case, a court ruled that it would not intervene.

The Accomack County, the Republican Committee has requested that a judge hold certain absentee ballots for 48 hours due to concerns about voter fraud. Gary Byler, Republican Party counsel, says that some voters reported not being able to retrieve absentee ballots.

 “A couple of voters - one or two in specific - came to get their absentee ballot only to be told that it’d already been mailed,” Byler said.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney for Accomack began an investigation into the matter in mid-October but hasn’t taken any actions that would stop the ballots from being counted. The Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

The county Registrar’s office says that because no judge has approved the injunction, absentee ballots are being counted normally. Virginia law prevents ballots from being recast. If no injunction is filed by the time the ballots in question are counted then the votes will count as they were cast.