Election officials encourage voters to report problems, irregularities

Lyndon German | 10/22/2020, 6 p.m.
Chesterfield resident Clarence Lee, 90, has been an active voter since the 1950s. He was planning to vote in person …

Chesterfield resident Clarence Lee, 90, has been an active voter since the 1950s. He was planning to vote in person on Nov. 3.

If his daughter, public historian Dr. Lauranett Lee, hadn’t checked his voter registration status on the state Department of Elections website, Mr. Lee would have been turned away at the polls in November. His daughter discovered that records showed he was not registered to vote.

Dr. Lee learned from the Chesterfield voter registrar’s office that her father’s birth date was recorded incorrectly, causing the change in his voter registration status.

Although the issue was resolved and Dr. Lee took her father to vote on Monday, rather than waiting until Election Day, Dr. Lee felt frustrated by the occurrence.

“Initially I was surprised, shocked and frustrated. But we went through the process and reached a resolution,” Dr. Lee said. “It did make me wonder how many others would be impacted, particularly the elderly, because they would not have known to go online to check their status.”

In Henrico County, a couple reported an odd mishap on the first day of early voting when they went to the Western Henrico Government Center to vote. Before feeding his ballot into the electronic collection machine, the husband realized his ballot was missing the two state Constitutional amendments included in this general election.

He told election officials who took his marked ballot and gave him a new one printed with the amendments. No explanation was given as to why the initial ballot didn’t contain the amendments or why it was given to him or other voters.

More than 812,000 Virginians have gone to the polls since early voting started on Sept. 18 to cast ballots in what is widely viewed as one of the most important elections in recent history. Another 631,000 people in the Commonwealth have voted early by mail.

Few reports of voting problems or irregularities have been lodged locally, although state and federal officials and voter advocates urge that any issues or suspicious circumstances be reported to local reg- istrar’s offices, voter suppression hot lines and the FBI.

Susan J. Beals, chair of the Chesterfield County Electoral Board, said that voter registration and early voting has gone smoothly.

Asked about Mr. Lee’s situation, she said, “We haven’t really heard of many problems. The only thing that we’ve seen is, if somebody gives us the wrong information while registering, sometimes that will cause us to have a mistake in our record.”

Ms. Beals pointed to a problem that occurred when a person seeking to register to vote was unable to because he or she entered their Social Security number incorrectly. Other than that entry error, she said the process has had no glitches.

She said it has been up to her and the Chesterfield registrar’s office to train the county’s 1,300 election officers on new regulations or changes coming out of the General Assembly and the state Department of Elections, including the change that allows voters to cast absentee ballots in the November election without providing an excuse.

Ms. Beals expressed confidence in the county’s election officials and training.

Henrico County Voter Registrar Mark Coakley said that the is- sue of the incorrect ballot hadn’t been reported directly to his office, but he did advocate for voters to contact their local registrar if such problems occur.

“We had a mother and daughter call us because they were sent the wrong ballots. We have two congressional districts here in Henrico, and supposedly they were sent the 7th District ballots rather than the 4th District ballots,” he said.

The Election Protection Hotline — (866) OUR VOTE — has been set up by a national nonpartisan coalition of more than 100 organizations, including the national NAACP, the Lawyers Com- mittee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Action Network and the NALEO Educational Fund. The hotline is open 24 hours to help people with information and assistance, including reporting any issues, at all stages of voting — from registration to early and absentee voting to overcoming any obstacles.

The FBI’s Richmond Field Office also stands ready to assist voters. In a news release issued Oct. 9, the local office stated it will be working with local law enforcement agencies to monitor any significant threats to the election such as voter fraud, ballot fraud, campaign finance crimes and civil rights violations.

“We’re working closely with all our law enforcement partners and trying to be proactive, getting out in the community and making sure everybody has the right information,” Special Agent Michael Schuler said. “We’re always concerned about voter fraud, ballot fraud and we look to the community to help us protect the integrity of the election.”

Any incidents can be reported to the FBI Richmond Field Office anonymously at (804) 261-1044 or tips.fbi.gov.