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Ballot forms ‘created vast confusion’

The Suffolk voter registrar says a recent mailing from a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit has caused confusion for local voters, but that they can use the mail-in ballot request forms if all the information pre-printed on them is correct.

Susan Saunders, Suffolk’s voter registrar, said she and her staff have answered a lot of phone calls about the forms, many of which arrived in local mailboxes Aug. 6-7.

“Our phones have been ringing off the hook because of the absentee ballot forms,” she said. “It has created vast confusion.”

The forms come from The Center for Voter Information and have an address in Richmond printed on the outside envelope; however, the group’s website says it is based in D.C.

Inside, the mailer says voters can “just sign, date and complete the application.” It also alludes to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying voting by mail “keeps you healthy and safe.”

The mailing also includes a Virginia Vote by Mail Application Form, with some information pre-printed on it, including the name and address of the voter and the date of the Nov. 3 general election. There’s also a pre-printed envelope addressed to the Suffolk City Registrar with postage paid.

Saunders said that at least the information on the return envelope received by Suffolk voters appears to be correct, unlike mailers some other voters in the state received. Voters in neighboring City of Franklin have reported their return envelopes came addressed to the registrar of Franklin County, nearly four hours to the west. Likewise, voters in Franklin County said their envelopes were addressed for Franklin City.

The same issued happened in Fairfax City and Fairfax County, Richmond City and Richmond County and Roanoke City and Roanoke County, media have reported — in all, about half a million applications sent to Virginia voters had incorrect information.

“Mistakes in our programming are very rare, but we take them seriously,” a statement from the Center for Voter Information stated. “We know that voters are on high alert as the November election approaches, and we regret adding to any confusion.”

The Virginia Department of Elections also issued a statement.

“The Virginia Department of Elections has no affiliation with this group nor coordinates with any third party groups on campaign efforts,” the statement read. If you have already applied for an absentee ballot, you do not need to submit a new application. The first day that absentee ballots will be mailed is Sept. 18, 2020.”

The statement also said any forms already mailed to the wrong registrar, like those from Franklin, would be forwarded to the correct office for processing.

Although the address for Suffolk’s registrar was correct in local mailers, some had other mistakes. Saunders said she had heard from voters who received mailers listing their names incorrectly. Some voters were also concerned because not all of the registered voters at their address received the form.

“People are confused,” Saunders said. “A lot of people are calling in.”

Even so, she said Suffolk voters can use that form if the information on it is correct. If they are in doubt, however, they can always apply online on the Virginia Department of Elections website, or print the form to mail from there.

Saunders also encouraged voters to vote by mail. Voters no longer need an excuse for why they cannot vote in person on Election Day to cast an “absentee ballot”; they can vote in person at the registrar’s office before Election Day, or vote by mail, without providing a reason.

“We’re voters too, and we understand people’s concern,” Saunders said. “We have checks and balances in place so whatever ballot is mailed in to us is counted. I think it’s a safe way to sit down at your kitchen table and mark your ballot and mail it in.”

Saunders urged any voter who is in doubt to call her office at 757-514-7750. They can also go online at elections.virginia.gov.