By Carol Vaughn —
Accomack County’s voter registrar responded to concerns some voters have voiced about early voting and the electoral board.
Voter Registrar Patricia White in a Sept. 29 email said 1,519 people had voted in person and the office had mailed out 2,177 ballots by that date, less than two weeks after early voting began Sept. 18.
Early ballots cast and mail applications in Accomack County totaled 4,447 as of Tuesday, compared with a total of 1,466 absentee ballots cast in the November 2016 election, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
Virginia this year for the first time allows early voting with no excuse needed to vote early or absentee.
The October newsletter of the Accomack and Northampton Democratic Committees included an article about “micro-voter suppression,” citing the relocation of the Accomack County Voter Registration Office just over two months before the start of early voting, “receipt of incorrect/incomplete/vague election or voter information, when queried by voters and political leaders,” and failure to publicly announce electoral board meetings, among other actions.
“The damage these efforts at voter suppression have caused is incalculable and cannot be reversed,” the article said.
Responding to complaints that voters were turned away at the registrar’s office, White said, “On Friday, Sept. 18, which was the first day of in person early voting and mail (absentee ballot) voting, some people showed up to vote in person who had applied for and been mailed a ballot.
“We explained that a ballot had just been mailed out to them that day and would not have had time to reach them yet and asked if they would want to wait for that ballot, vote it and also explained that there was a self-addressed, stamped envelope in the packet for them to return the ballot to us. Almost everyone who we explained that to were happy to wait to see if the ballot would come in the mail to them.
“When persons from the (Democratic) party heard this they assumed that we may have turned voters away and refused them the right to vote — that was not the case at all, we were simply trying to help them understand the process.”
Similar scenarios happened around the state “because for some reason people were given the idea that they needed to vote a ballot and put it in the scanner rather than vote by mail when they had applied to vote by mail,” according to White.
State guidance about how to proceed in those cases came to registrars late Wednesday, Sept. 23, after early voting began the previous Friday.
“They are now telling us to let everyone who walks in to the office and turns (in) their un-voted ballot to be allowed to vote in person or sign the statement and be given a new ballot to vote here if they do not turn the ballot into us,” White said.
The statement says the voter applied for but did not receive a ballot by mail or applied for and received but lost the ballot.
“Voters need to know that each ballot in a locality must be accounted for,” White said.
Responding to a question about whether proper notice is given of electoral board meetings, White said that the electoral board does not meet on a monthly, routine basis. The board typically meets more frequently during election periods.
White said after she receives notice of when the board will meet, she sends the information to the county information technology department, which posts it on the county website.
The most recent meeting was Tuesday, Oct. 6, and the information was posted on the calendar on the county website.
An August 31 meeting was not posted. There were also electoral board meeting minutes posted to the county’s website for Jan. 21, Feb. 8, March 4, May 20, June 6, and July 22, 2020. With the exception of the July 22 meeting, postings for those meetings do not appear on the calendar on the county’s website. Under state law, the electoral board must follow the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which requires posting notices of the date, time, and location of meetings on the official public government website, placing the notices in a prominent public location where public notices are regularly posted, and placing such notice at the office of the clerk of the public body or, in the case of a public body that has no clerk, at the office of the chief administrator.
White also answered a question from the Post about how and when early voting and absentee ballots will be counted in the Nov. 3 election.
“The in person and by mail (ballots) will all be tallied. We will know the numbers from the in person (voting) when that machine is closed on election night and the totals from the by mail we will know the final (results) on Friday (Nov. 6) after noon,” she said, noting the Virginia General Assembly decided all ballots mailed in that are postmarked by 7 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, and received by noon that Friday are to be counted.
Still, White said the state has not given registrars direction as to how to report each of those categories “because they are all considered under the CAP (Central Absentee Precinct) precinct.”