Not Delivered or Just Not Picked Up? Late Stafford, VA Ballots Roil Tight Race

[Image via staffordcountymuseum]

A tight House of Delegates race in Stafford County (Quantico), Virginia is generating frustration and controversy after the county board of elections voted to exclude 55 absentee ballots that arrived in the election office on Wednesday morning after the 7pm Election Day deadline. The problem is, it isn’t clear when the ballots arrived at the post office – meaning that the delay could have been a failure of the county to pick up timely ballots. WTOP Radio’s Max Smith has more:

Democrats are arguing that more ballots should be counted — including 55 absentee ballots that Registrar Greg Riddlemoser said were picked up by county mailroom staff Wednesday morning, after the 7 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

Virginia law requires absentee ballots be received by the registrar before the polls close in order to be counted.

Electoral Board Chairman Doug Filler said that the board has asked for a judicial ruling on whether the 55 absentee ballots could be counted because of the possibility that some were delivered to the county’s post office box between 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Unlike many other jurisdictions in Virginia, the Stafford County Electoral Board has not put ballot-specific bar codes on absentee envelopes that would allow precise U.S. Postal Service tracking.

“It’s going to be a judicial decision so that the judge or judges who hear this case will have to decide in their best judgment. Because there is no, to my knowledge, no definitive confirmation that they either were or were not received in a timely fashion because of the absence of this bar code,” Filler said.

Filler said the state had offered to pay for the bar codes, but the county had not acted on that.

Now, as you would likely expect, the issue moves to court – as the Washington Post reports:

Tuesday night, the Virginia House Democratic Caucus announced it had filed a lawsuit on Cole’s behalf in Federal Court in Alexandria, demanding that the 55 absentee ballots be counted.

“We are disappointed with today’s decision of the Stafford County Electoral Board not to count the 55 absentee ballots erroneously excluded from this year’s election results,” Marc Elias, the caucus’s attorney, said in a written statement.

House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who is in line to become speaker if the GOP holds the majority, praised Stafford’s board for voting “to uphold the law.”

“Despite multiple unsuccessful attempts by Democrats to litigate the results of this election, the law was applied fairly and evenly by the commonwealth’s judges and electoral boards, preserving the integrity of the electoral process as well as the constitutional rights of all voters who lawfully participated in the election,” Cox said.

What’s unfortunate is that all of this controversy seems to have been avoidable had the election office implemented the bar code tracking program – which would have indicated that ballots were arriving on Election Night – and made a final sweep of post offices late in the day to pick up last-minute absentee ballots. Since they didn’t, now a close election (which happens) has become a controversial one (which doesn’t have to happen). Given that the race in question is one of three statewide that could affect partisan control of the House chamber, you can bet it will get full attention. There will almost certainly be more developments in this case, which may or may not change the outcome – but you know that it will create demands for explanations (and maybe change) at the Stafford County elections office. Hang on – and stay tuned …

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