Ballot blunders in Stafford, Prince William counties on Election Day

Election Day 2019 was marred by ballot issues in two Northern Virginia counties.

In Prince William County, several hundreds ballots were misprinted and contained only one side, election officials confirmed to WTOP.

Earlier in the day, another problem emerged in Stafford County, where for the second straight Virginia House of Delegates election, some voters there cast ballots in the wrong races Tuesday, state elections officials said.

Prince William County issues

Prince William County confirmed ballot issues at three voting locations Tuesday morning.

After getting calls from two listeners who said they had trouble voting in the morning, WTOPgot in touch with registrar Michelle White, who confirmed the problem.

White said several hundred ballots were misprinted Tuesday morning at three voting locations in Woodbridge. The printers mistakenly printed the front of the ballot instead of the front and back.

White said the sheriff’s department planned to drive reprinted ballots to those three locations now: They are Rippon Middle School, River Oaks Elementary School and Leesylvania Elementary School.

It’s unclear how many voters were turned away or whether any voters unknowingly cast their votes on the defective ballots.

The issue proved to more than a minor inconvenience for some voters. At Rippon Middle School — one of the precincts with the misprinted ballots — one woman was apparently told, because the precinct had no paper ballots and their machine was down, she could not vote, according to Paul Merrit, the live-in caretaker of the woman, who has cerebral palsy.

Merritt told WTOP he went into “political protest mode” and called congressional offices and state elections officials seeking answers.

“Instead of telling them, ‘Hey, you need to wait,’ they were telling them, ‘You can’t vote,'” he said. “That’s the wording they were using … That you can’t vote today.”

Merritt said he’s disappointed in how elections officials handled the situation. “Don’t tell people you can’t vote,” he said. “Tell people, ‘Hey, we’re having issues. This is how you can vote.'”


Wrong ballots in Stafford County

In Stafford County, at least some voters in six precincts in the 2nd, 28th and 88th House districts got the wrong ballots in the first hour of voting Tuesday, Commissioner of Elections Chris Piper said.

The districts are the same ones where voters were assigned to the wrong districts in 2017, leading to court battles.

According to Piper, this time the voters had the correct House districts assigned to them in the state voter registration system, but the poll books at six precincts had incorrect district assignments for voters as they checked in.

The Department of Elections is still investigating exactly what happened, Piper said, but he added that the local registrar was able to resolve the issue within 30 minutes to an hour of polls opening by delivering updated poll books to the relevant precincts.

The first issue was reported around 10 minutes after polls opened at 6 a.m., Piper said.

WTOP left a message requesting more information from the Stafford County registrar’s office.

In 2017, the 28th District race went to a recount and was decided by fewer than 100 votes, including those cast in the wrong race.

The race this year between Democrat Joshua Cole and Republican Paul Milde could be similarly close.

Any voters that did not realize they were casting ballots in the wrong race before the ballot was submitted will have their votes counted in the incorrect race.

“Once a ballot is cast, it’s cast,” Piper said.

There is no way to separate out specific ballots after they are submitted, since secret ballot protections prevent a link between a specific voter and a specific ballot once it is cast.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report. 

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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