A half-million unsolicited absentee applications cause confusion in Virginia

For example, people in Fairfax County were given envelopes addressed to the Fairfax City registrar’s office, the county said in a statement. (WTOP/Jared Ruderman)

Absentee voting is more popular than ever this year as the coronavirus pandemic discourages voters from heading to the polls, but about a half-million people in Virginia were mailed absentee ballot applications that they did not ask for — and that have incorrect address on the return envelopes.

The applications were sent by an organization called the Center for Voter Information.

In a statement from the group Thursday sent along by their partner organization, the Voter Participation Center, the CVI said, “We are aware that some of the mailers may have directed the return envelopes to the wrong election offices.”

They said the affected areas are Fairfax City and Fairfax County, Franklin City and Franklin County, Richmond City and Richmond County, and Roanoke City and Roanoke County.

“Approximately half a million applications sent to eligible voters in Virginia included incorrect information,” the group said, “and we are working diligently to address the issues. Mistakes in our programming are very rare, but we take them seriously, and our methods overall are extraordinarily effective.”

CVI added, “We know that voters are on high alert as the November election approaches, and we regret adding to any confusion. Please rest assured that we are working with local election officials in Virginia to redirect the vote-by-mail applications to the proper locations, and will rectify any errors at our own expense.”

For example, people in Fairfax County were given envelopes addressed to the Fairfax City registrar’s office, the county said in a statement.

The Virginia Board of Elections said in a statement Thursday that they were not connected with the Center for Voter Information or the Voter Participation Center.

They said voters who want ballots mailed to them should apply on the BOE website.

Any applications that ended up in the wrong office would be forwarded to the correct one, the board said, and anyone who has already applied for a ballot doesn’t need to do it again.

“One person stated that a dead person received one and a pet received one,” said Deb Wake, president of the voting-rights advocacy group the League of Women Voters of Virginia.

“We think that they are encouraging people to vote absentee, but they are not helping,” Wake said. “It’s feeding into voter confusion.”

Ballots will start going in the mail Sept. 18, the Board of Elections said.

There have been reports of similar problems in other states, including North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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