No, Your Ballot Isn’t in a River. Virginia Registrars Just Haven’t Finished Counting Yet.
Send your ballot by mail today Oct. 27

Election workers stack ballots in the election office to be processed that were picked up at a United States Postal Service office on October 26, 2020. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

By Amie Knowles
November 5, 2020

Yes, your vote was recorded. No, it hasn’t shown up on the Virginia Department of Elections’ website yet, but that’s ok.

GRAYSON COUNTY – Nothing is wrong with Virginia’s elections system, despite what you may see on social media. A fear-driven Facebook post exploded throughout Virginia Wednesday evening. The post urged those who voted early or submitted a mail-in ballot to go to the Commonwealth’s Department of Elections website and check their ballot’s status.

To many viewers’ horror, their votes didn’t appear. But this isn’t a malfunction. This is the normal way the Virginia election system works. It takes days for the status to be updated.

On Thursday, Stacey Reavis, Grayson County’s general registrar, explained how the system works: all votes are counted no matter if a person participated in early voting, mail-in voting, or Election Day voting.

“If you went to the polls on Election Day and you voted, then it’s counted. It has been included in the tally. Voter credit import gets uploaded after Election Day. All that means is where we checked you in, then we’re giving you credit for having voted,” Reavis said. “Some localities use electronic poll books. Some localities still use paper poll books. Either way, all the localities in Virginia can still get ballots coming in by mail up through Friday at noon. So most places are waiting to do one voter credit upload.”

So why is it taking so long?

However, the question of when an individual’s voter credit might show up in the online system differentiates from precinct to precinct.

“The ones that do electronic [ballot counting], probably won’t do that until after Friday, after they’ve tallied and got those final numbers in,” Reavis said. “The ones that do paper poll books, their poll books actually go to their locality’s clerk of court for 30 days. So theirs, it’ll be a little bit longer. So when we get it back after that 30 day time period, as long as there’s no recount pending, you know, nothing that would restrict our getting it back then, we upload that manually one voter at a time.”

In the digital age, patience becomes more of a virtue than it ever was before. People enjoy an immediate response to their actions, but that’s simply not the way voter credits work.

“It doesn’t just automatically show your voter credit. There’s an import and an upload process and it’s just a matter, you know, with the changes in the election laws giving a little more time for those vote by mails to come in, and then where there’s the difference in some folks doing the paper poll books and electronic,” Reavis said. “It just delays that particular process a little bit. It doesn’t mean that your vote did not get counted. At all.”

It’s part of the process

Multiple conspiracy theories have popped up surrounding this election. We covered one example involving Virginia Beach. Through Wednesday night and Thursday morning, Virginia registrars, elected officials and the Department of Elections all tried to clear this one up.  

“We’ve had calls from voters based on a viral social media post directing voters to check our website to see if their vote counted,” Virginia Department of Elections said in a statement to media. “This data is sent to the Department of Elections only after the canvass occurs by local electoral boards in the days following the election. It may take a few days for your vote from 2020 to show up on our website, but please do not be alarmed. This is part of the normal process.” 

Conspiracy theories are nothing new. We’ve seen them for years, ranging from accusations that the Bush administration was in on 9/11 to President Obama’s place of birth. But in the last four years, the amount of conspiracy theories has picked up, according to a study from the Center for American Progress. That increase in theories, as well as a growing number of people who believe them, causes tension to increase as well. 

‘There’s a lot more tension in this election,” Reeves said. “ It’s kind of just at the forefront more than it has been before, I think.”

The registrar noted that in Grayson County, every vote counts. However, they won’t certify their numbers until after noon on Friday, when the last votes arrive.

“Everything that we have gotten so far, anything that came in by mail, has been counted,” Reavis said. “We have this year what’s called a curing process, and that’s part of this extension for the three days. If there was something missing on an envelope, we’re contacting those voters and giving them an opportunity until Friday at noon to come in and make corrections so that that ballot won’t be rejected. So there will be a lot less rejections than there was in previous years, as well.”

As of Thursday morning, the registrar’s office received over 900 mail-in ballots for the election season, with others potentially on the way.

Provisional ballots

Another reason the update isn’t ready involves provisional ballots. When there’s a question about a voter’s eligibility, they receive a provisional ballot. They’re still allowed to vote, but the ballot won’t count until those questions have been answered. Reeves said multiple polling places had to use provisional ballots this year, due to voters changing their mind. 

“[Some voters] had applied to vote by an absentee ballot and we mailed a ballot out to them. Come Election Day, they go to the polling place,” Reeves said. “They decide they want to vote in person.”

Now that’s legal, as we explained here. But the voter has to bring that mail-in ballot back to turn it in, if they want to vote in person. That way the registrar’s office can void it. In several cases on Election Day, that didn’t happen in Grayson County. So the voters received a provisional ballot until election workers were able to track down that original mail-in version. 

“That was just to prevent getting two ballots in from the same person,” Reavis said. “Now in that situation, as long as by Friday at noon we don’t have a mailed ballot, then that provisional ballot’s going to count. So there’s not an issue with that.”

Another issue centered around a new law. In Feb., Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB 19 into law, reversing the state’s photo ID requirement from 2013. A person still must show a form of ID to vote but it no longer has to have a photo. 

The law took effect on July 1. It also allows people who forgot their ID to still cast their vote. However, you still have to verify your identity. If a voter does not have a valid ID, they must sign an Identification Statement Affirming form.

“But if you didn’t have ID and did not want to sign that statement, then that was a provisional ballot scenario,” Reavis said. “But again, folks have until Friday at noon to sign a statement or provide ID. So it’s giving them an opportunity. They’ve still got some time to correct whatever the issue was on Election Day, so that that ballot will be counted.”

Amie Knowles is a staff reporter for Dogwood. You can reach her 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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