It’s Still Not Too Late to Correct a Ballot

By Amie Knowles

November 2, 2020

One last election change helps Virginia voters.

DICKENSON COUNTY – Millions of Virginians won’t vote today. That’s not because they aren’t being patriotic. It’s because they’ve already cast their ballot.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, over 2.7 million citizens voted early, as of Nov. 1. That’s four times the number of individuals who voted absentee in 2016, more than 570,000.

With millions of votes submitted over the past 45 days, there’s bound to be a mistake or two. That’s what registrars look out for in their pre-processing practices.  

This year, a Virginia law changed. It allowed people with incomplete ballots a chance to correct their mistake, rather than tossing out their ballot.

The second chance change saved numerous votes across the state, from larger cities to rural areas.

Pre-processing finds problems

In Dickenson County, general registrar Reba Childress’s team worked hard pre-processing absentee ballots. Approximately 35% of registered voters in the county cast their ballot prior to Nov. 3. Total, the team mailed out 681 ballots and welcomed 2,936 in-person early voters.

“It is a lot for us,” Childress said.

The registrar explained that pre-processing took place after business hours one night. The team, complete with bipartisan witnesses, pre-processed 439 ballots.

“After that, we didn’t have enough that had come back, so we didn’t pre-process anymore,” Childress said.

Two teams checked each ballot’s Envelope B to ensure all of the proper information made it onto the envelope. The second person on the team checked each ballot off on a report after checking the name, address and other information, before putting the ballot in a locked box.

Unfortunately, not everyone completed the information correctly on Envelope B. Childress said there were a handful of voters who made a mistake. For example, some put a P.O. Box instead of their home address.

“Just simple little things like that,” Childress said.

Childress’s team sent letters to each voter who had incomplete information on their ballot. They also called or emailed the individuals.

“Some of them came in and [we] actually let them fix the problem themselves,” Childress said. “Or they would request a new actual ballot, so [we] would send them a new application. When it came back, [we] would send them a new ballot.”

More issues eastward

Well over 300 miles eastward, the general registrar in Brunswick County, David Clary, faced similar circumstances. Of the 4,400 or so votes his office received – over 50% of a general presidential election turnout – several mail-in absentee ballots had problems.

The team pre-processed approximately 600 ballots, leaving just shy of 400 for Election Night.

“The only day we could actually get in here and start getting them pre-processed was actually on a Sunday because we have absentee going on Monday through Friday, and then the two Saturdays before the election, we were open,” Clary said. “So Sundays were really the only time registrars and election officials had any time to do anything spare.”

Once the team went through the ballots, they altered those with issues of the problem.

“We’ve only had a small handful of them. If someone comes in and let’s just say they didn’t sign their ballot, not the ballot itself, but the envelope it comes back in, we send a letter out,” Clary said. “It’s actually an affidavit saying that ‘you forgot to sign this. Please fill this affidavit out and mail it back to us so we can make sure your ballot gets counted.’”

Clary estimated that approximately one dozen ballots came back incomplete. The team gave equal opportunities for each voter to correct the mistake.

“Probably about half of those have already been cured,” Clary said.

The registrar did not expect surprises on Election Night, concerning missing absentee ballot information. Of the 375 ballots or so remaining for pre-processing, he noted that team members have already checked them for misinformation or missing information. Once the team runs them through the ballot machine, the process ends.

Closing in on the COVID cast

Even though ballot casting received several changes throughout the election season, voters and election officials both adapted and met the demand. As voting ends today, Clary looked back over the past 45 days and ahead to announcing the election results.

“This has been historic. This is something that registrars have never had to deal with, this type of volume,” Clary said. “I’m pretty sure we’re going to see Virginia’s turnout and the election results come out – don’t quote me on quickly – but it should be fairly soon.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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