“Could this have happened elsewhere? Yes,” Chairman James Alcorn said.
Despite “irregularities” in Stafford County and Fredericksburg, where at least 147 voters cast ballots in the wrong House of Delegates race, the board certified the results Monday in the 28th and 88th districts. In the 28th District, Republican Bob Thomas was certified the winner by just 82 votes over Democrat Joshua Cole.
Cole is expected to file for a recount and could also ask the House of Delegates to order a new election.
“I would expect that this will be handled through the courts or the General Assembly, and I think we could see our first contest in many many years … that will result in a new election,” Alcorn said.
In a contest, the House of Delegates can decide whether there is enough evidence to overturn the result or order a redo.
Democrats are also expected to file for recounts in Newport News and a seat in Prince William and Fairfax counties. In Newport News, the margin is just 10 votes, but Alcorn says no review has been done to check for misassigned voters there.
Alcorn says his goal is to make sure people can trust the election results at the end of the process, even if that includes a revote due to the incorrect ballots.
“I think there are certainly irregularities there right now,” Alcorn said. “This has happened on occasion; I’ve never seen it happen to this level, one, in terms of number of voters or, two, have this kind of impact because of the closeness of the election.”
Alcorn promised a review to determine ways to keep this from happening again, but says there have not been any regular audits he is aware of in the past to ensure voters are assigned to and remain assigned to the correct district. Some of the 384 voters identified as being assigned to the wrong House district in the Fredericksburg area had their assignments changed in 2016, but others were misassigned since the lines were redrawn in 2011.
“When I worked at the department, this was not routine analysis because most of the way that you would check these sort of things is by actually driving around and making sure you understood where the streets were,” Alcorn said.
“The state voter registration system does not use a GIS system, which is what most modern mapping systems use. The state looked into that several years ago; it was decided that it would be too costly both to build and also to maintain because of a lack of resources at the local level,” he said.
The Department of Elections investigation into the number of voters wrongly assigned to the 28th and neighboring districts has wrapped up for now, Commissioner Edgardo Cortés said. Most of the changes appear to have happened around other corrections or changes that were being properly made in Stafford County and Fredericksburg.
“That’s what we were able to identify … the parties have more sophisticated tools than we do, and there’s a lot of folks out there with a lot more resources than us that may find more people,” Cortés said.
He expected the next focus will be on what kind of ongoing audits there should be of the system, and how much time and money that would take. Since the investigation over the last three weeks was done manually, he could not say how long a similar check might take if it were to be ordered statewide.
“We haven’t done any analysis or gone in to look at anything else in the state; I’m sure that’ll be something that’s coming down the pike,” Cortés said. “It’s certainly possible given what we’ve found here; it’s certainly possible that there are folks elsewhere.”
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