City election officials called on the carpet

Jeremy Lazarus | 12/18/2015, 7:12 a.m. | Updated on 12/18/2015, 7:12 a.m.
The Virginia Department of Elections has a software upgrade that could have prevented voters in precincts split into two or ...

The Virginia Department of Elections has a software upgrade that could have prevented voters in precincts split into two or more election districts from receiving the wrong ballots, the Free Press has learned.

The finding comes at the same time the state Board of Elections, which oversees the department, has asked City of Richmond election officials to appear Jan. 8 before the state board to explain a series of problems that cropped up during the Nov. 3 election.

The issues include improperly programmed pollbooks that hampered voter check-ins, a failure to implement a change in state policy that affected Gov. Terry McAuliffe and, most notably, the distribution of the wrong ballot to voters in two city precincts.

As the Free Press reported in the Dec. 10-12 edition, Edward D. Adams and an unknown number of other Richmond voters ended up casting ballots in the wrong state Senate district because of the problem.

Mr. Adams told the Free Press that he protested to election officials at the polling place, but was forced to vote in the 9th Senate District instead of the 10th Senate District in which he lives. He said officials at the precinct insisted he lived in the 9th District and required him to accept the ballot for that district. He voted at Precinct 206 at the Dominion Place Apartments on Grace Street in the Fan District, one of six city precincts split between the two Senate districts.

Mr. Adams was not alone, according to a report state Elections Department Commissioner Edgardo Cortés and state Election Supervisor Gary Fox made to the board on Election Day as the board monitored election problems.

Mr. Fox told the board that the wrong ballots were distributed in Precinct 206 and Precinct 307 at Ginter Park Presbyterian Church. According to the report to the board, these were the only precincts in the state in which such a problem was reported.

Mr. Fox blamed the city for failing to program the electronic pollbooks at those precincts to account for the split districts. Pollbooks contain the names of registered voters and are used to check-in voters.

While check-in tables and pollbooks were separated according to district, the pollbooks contained names of all the registered voters in the precinct, not just those within a specific district, city Voter Registrar Kirk Showalter told the Free Press previously.

Two sources have told the Free Press about a software upgrade provided to the state election department by DemTech Services Inc., the vendor hired by the department to provide, maintain and upgrade current pollbooks. The department is required to provide the software to local election officials.

The software upgrade allows pollbooks to lock in the names of the registered voters in a district and to block the names of voters registered in a separate district.

If it had been installed, Mr. Adams would not have been able to vote in the 9th Senate District because his name would have been listed only in the 10th Senate District pollbook and locked out of the pollbook for the 9th District.