RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of applications for mail-in ballots that a voter-advocacy group sent to voters in Virginia had the wrong return addresses, adding another complication for state election officials who are already hard-pressed to pull off a smooth election in a pandemic.
The Virginia Department of Elections said the return envelopes were addressed to the wrong election office, which would force election officials to forward the applications to the correct office for processing. Meanwhile, the department said anyone wanting to vote absentee should apply for a ballot through the state’s website.
The problem mailers were sent by The Center for Voter Information, a third-party group not affiliated with the state, department said in a news release Thursday.
The Washington-based group, which says it’s a non-partisan organization aiming to increase voter participation, had mailed over 2 million applications to voters, The Washington Post reported.
About a quarter of them had return envelopes addressed to an inaccurate election office, the center said in a statement. A computer error confused localities with similar names, like Fairfax City and Fairfax County; and Richmond City and Richmond County, The Post reported.
“We know that voters are on high alert as the November election approaches, and we regret adding to any confusion,” the statement said. “Please rest assured that we are working with local election officials in Virginia to re-direct the vote-by-mail applications to the proper locations, and will rectify any errors at our own expense.”
The issue led to many calls to election offices in Virginia. Norfolk’s voter registrar, Stephanie Iles, said her office has been bombarded by residents since Wednesday afternoon, The Virginian-Pilot reported. She recommends that voters use the state’s election website to request a ballot.
“There’s a right way to do this,” she said. “I get they’re trying to increase voter turnout, but it’s creating voter confusion the way it was done.”
President Donald Trump has increasingly sought to cast doubt on the expected pandemic-induced surge in mail-in and absentee voting despite the lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud through mail-in voting.
“Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but it could have been sent by the other party,” said Hank Wolf, a Falls Church resident who plans to vote for Democrat Joe Biden in November. “It could have been sent by Trump,” Wolf told The Post.
Elections officials in Wisconsin warned about incorrect mailers sent by the center in 2018, the same year the group mailed voter registration forms to 140,000 voter who were already registered to cast a ballot in Virginia, The Post reported. Those mailers were accompanied by letters that told residents they had not been registered to vote.
“Just about every mailing that they’ve sent out has been a significant drain on us trying to correct misinformation,” Deirdre Martin, the deputy registrar in Roanoke, told the newspaper.