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Virginia Absentee Ballot Mailer Creates Confusion due to Errors

A third-party nonprofit organization seeking to increase voter turnout mailed out around a half a million absentee ballot applications in Virginia with the wrong return addresses reported WTOP.  The erroneous ballots made up about a quarter of the two million absentee ballot applications sent out by the Center for Voter Information in Virginia.

The applications were printed by Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Company whose CEO, Jonathan Shapiro acknowledged, “We are keenly aware of the seriousness of this mistake.” The problem occurred due to an incorrectly aligned spreadsheet.  The confusion was caused by the similarity in names of various Virginia municipalities.  Fairfax County and Fairfax City residents, for example, received applications with the return addresses reversed according to KSDK.com.

Shapiro placed the blame squarely on his own company, saying, “The error was entirely ours.  We added to the burden already felt by local election boards and made their jobs significantly harder. Worse, this error created confusion for voters who are trying to exercise their right to vote from home, safely and conveniently.”

The CEO of the Center for Voter Information, Tom Lopach, said, “We regret the confusion caused in this case. Nobody wants to create confusion or cause problems during this election cycle.  Certainly we don’t. We’re working with local election officials to correct this and we’ll redouble our efforts to prevent any errors.”  He asserted that, “voting by mail is a safe and secure option for participating in our democracy.”

Not all parties agree with Lopach’s assessment of voting by mail.  President Trump has warned about the dangers of potential fraud inherent in mail voting.  Foreign interference in the 2016 elections has many government officials sounding warnings about the upcoming elections still being vulnerable. 

Virginia election officials warned voters about the hazards of third-party organizations in voting matters.  Fairfax County General Registrar Gary Scott said, “This mailing is causing great confusion and concern among voters who have been contacting our office.  While the mailing may appear to be from an official government agency, the Fairfax County Office of Elections did not send it.”  Scott said any eligible voter may apply for an absentee ballot online.  He called this the “most secure method to apply rather than responding to unsolicited applications.”  The Virginia Department of Elections urged anyone interested in voting absentee to check their website for information on how to do so correctly.

The Center for Voter Information has been involved in problems related to voting in the past.  Two years ago election officials in Wisconsin had to warn residents about a CVI mailing of voter registration forms.  The forms were sent to 140,000 people who were already registered to vote in Virginia.  An accompanying letter inaccurately told the recipients that they were not registered to vote.  Deirdre Martin, deputy registrar in Roanoke, VA complained about the Center for Voting Information. “Just about every mailing that they’ve sent out has been a significant drain on us trying to correct misinformation,” she said.

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