We read some pretty serious claims centered around polling precincts in Chesterfield on Election Day—so we went searching for the truth.

It was a little after 7 a.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8, when Twitter came alive in the Chesterfield area with some pretty serious claims, presented as “problems,” centered around polling precincts. 

Allegedly, there were two districts voting at one precinct, some machines weren’t working, people were being turned away, and one precinct opened about 40 minutes late. 

In just a couple of hours, dozens of people shared the information posted by a local news source. The following morning, the post had more than 140 likes and over 120 retweets. 

We wanted to jump on the bandwagon, too. If there’s an issue, we want to let you know about it as quickly as possible. What we didn’t want to do was spread misinformation, just because we’d seen a post online that gained traction.

So what did we do? We called the Chesterfield County General Registrar Missy Vera and left a voicemail asking about the claims we’d heard. Our phone rang less than two hours later, and we had answers in under nine minutes. Lo and behold, things weren’t exactly as they seemed in the Twitter post. 

Split Precincts?

Our first question was about the two districts voting at the same precinct because… weird, right? 

Actually, this did happen. But it wasn’t done under any secrecy. In fact, Chesterfield had to go through a process with the state, through which the county received a special waiver for split precincts. The need arose because in Virginia, localities can’t create a precinct with less than 100 voters.

The confusion also came about because of redistricting. This is the first election in Virginia since the district lines were redrawn, albeit late due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Vera explained that in the process, two precincts—402 and 412—were split by Congressional Districts 1 and 4. 

“It’s frustrating because we were told we wouldn’t have split precincts and, you know, the Code changed that localities could not have split precincts,” Vera said. “But then the redistricting, and we’re like, ah, split precinct. We had to get a waiver to have it.”

Because of the special permission granted ahead of the election, Vera said that theoretically one person could receive a ballot for District 1, while the person behind them in line could receive a ballot for District 4. 

Ironically, even though some members of the two districts voted at the same precinct, the districts did not elect the same party to the House of Representatives. While both districts chose incumbents, District 1 reelected Republican Rob Wittman, while District 4 voted in favor of Democrat Donald McEachin. 

Machine Malfunctions?

Next, we asked about the claims of malfunctioning machines. 

It’s true that some poll book laptops locked. However, the reason was because of human error—not a technological glitch. And yes, there were already backup measures in place for any potential technology issues, and those strategies were quickly implemented. 

Vera explained that each poll book laptop has a unique password. As a safety feature, entering the wrong password too many times will lock the potential user out of the device for a little while—that’s exactly what happened Tuesday morning.

While the elections officials waited for the opportunity to enter the correct password, they switched to emergency procedures. Vera noted that each precinct had a paper poll book with the names of all registered voters for that designated area. After asking people for their name and verifying their identification, elections officials marked each individual’s name off of the list and issued them a ballot.

Besides the check-in process, everything else about the individual’s election remained the same. Once the individual made their selections, they put their ballot in the scanner and exited. 

Another issue with the poll books was that sometimes, the user forgot to click a button to open the polls. Vera explained that while the user could see the poll book, they could not check in voters without first opening the poll. 

Also, some thumb drives with poll book information didn’t load at first. Once the user removed the thumb drive from the laptop and reinserted it, the drive worked properly. 

Opening Late?

Yes, polls did open 39 minutes late at one precinct in Chesterfield County—but it wasn’t because elections officials arrived late or refused voters entry.

The polling precinct at Alberta Smith Elementary School experienced an odd delay Tuesday morning. While elections officials were able to enter the building, they discovered that they weren’t able to open the doors once they were inside.

“Our workers were inside the building, but they couldn’t even open the door from the inside, which was very confusing to me and disconcerting because if there was an emergency, how were they supposed to exit the building?” Vera said.

At 6:39 a.m., the doors automatically unlocked. Vera said she suspected that the school doors were on an automatic timer, but noted that she hadn’t yet spoken to a representative from the division to confirm that hunch.

We reached out to Chesterfield County Public Schools to learn more about the door issue, but did not hear back by publication time. 

Correct(ing) Information?

As for claims of people being turned away, Vera said she hadn’t received any calls to support that narrative as of around 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

A little after 12:30 p.m. on Election Day—about five and a half hours after the first post—there was an update from the original news source explaining issues with the original post. 

There will inevitably be folks who make premature, false, or misleading claims about the midterm elections. Here’s a good way to determine if what someone says is true:

  • Consider the source
  • Assess who it comes from and see if they’re credible
  • Search for other stories that may back up the claims being made