Judge rejects lawsuit over 55 late absentee ballots in Stafford

Absentee voting for Virginia's June 13 primary election is set to begin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, file)
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — A federal judge rejected a Democratic delegate candidate’s request Friday to order the counting of 55 Stafford County absentee ballots that arrived after the legal deadline.

Joshua Cole’s campaign argued the voters were wrongly disenfranchised. Lawyers representing the Stafford County Electoral Board, Republican candidate Bob Thomas and the State Board of Elections said opening these ballots, and not others that arrived after polls closed, could create a slippery slope.

Thomas leads by 82 votes in the 28th District House race to replace retiring House Speaker Bill Howell.

The race is expected to go to a recount after the Board of Elections formally certifies the results Monday.

The judge said that while everyone has at one time or another wondered “What’s wrong with the mail,” it is not a violation of voters’ constitutional rights.

Absentee ballots often continue to arrive at registrars’ offices for weeks after an election. In Virginia, the postmark date does not matter, only when the ballot actually arrives.

Stafford Registrar Greg Riddlemoser said an email Democrats have cited to justify counting the ballots was sent when he was upset that the 55 ballots had been delivered a day after the election.

“This email, for lack of a better word, was unnecessary and unfortunate,” Riddlemoser said.

He wrote in the email, in part, “There is no possible way in my military mind that these ballots should not have been available to us on Election Day before close-of-polls.”

If the three expected recounts in House of Delegates races do not change results, Republicans would manage to maintain control of the chamber 51-49.

A separate recount is expected for the Garrisonville District supervisor’s seat in Stafford County, where Democrat Laura Sellers trails Del. Mark Dudenhefer.

Sellers’ father was in the registrar’s office when the 55 late absentee ballots arrived, Riddlemoser said, which added to the registrar’s frustration, given how well the Sellers family is known around the office.

“I’m not allowed to have friends in this business,” Riddlemoser said.

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