Half a million incorrect absentee ballot applications sent across Virginia, including to dead people

“Approximately half a million applications sent to eligible voters in Virginia included incorrect information, and we are working diligently to address the issues,” says the Center for Voter Information.

Updated: August 10, 2020 - 11:16am

A non-profit group says more than a half-million inaccurate applications for absentee ballots were mistakenly sent across Virginia this week — including to dead voters, errant relatives and even a pet — in an unprecedented mailing flub that has heightened concerns about the integrity of expanding mail-in voting efforts.  

The mistakes raised alarms with recipients as diverse as election monitors, members of the League of Women Voters and a retired FBI agent. The Center for Voter Information, the nonprofit group that sent the mailers with pre-filled absentee ballots, is now apologizing.  

The Center for Voter Information said the absentee application mailings were sent to "eligible voters" in the state and "some of the mailers may have directed the return envelopes" for the absentee applications to the wrong election offices.

The counties impacted by inaccurate mailings included Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Franklin City, Franklin County, Richmond City, Richmond County, Roanoke City and Roanoke County. 

"Approximately half a million applications sent to eligible voters in Virginia included incorrect information, 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," the center said in a statement.

"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 re-direct the vote-by-mail applications to the proper locations, and will rectify any errors at our own expense,” the group said.

Jonathan Shapiro, president and CEO of Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Company, the printing vendors for the Center for Voter Information, said the printing mistake "occurred because we incorrectly aligned a spreadsheet that matched the voter with their local election office."

Shapiro said their error "created confusion for voters who are trying to exercise their right to vote from home, safely and conveniently."

The League of Women Voters said some of their members received mailings with incorrect names on the ballot applications inside.

"One person stated that a dead person received one and a pet received one," said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters in Virginia, according to WTOP.

According to another local news report, mailings were sent to "people who were deceased or ineligible to vote."

The League of Women Voters declined to comment further on the matter.

Bassem Youssef, a former FBI agent who resides in Virginia, received an absentee ballot at his home addressed to a family member who has not lived at his address before. 

Youssef said he's "never seen anything" similar to that mailing come to his home in previous election cycles.

These types of mailings are legal in Virginia, but the Center for Voter Information and similar groups rely on information in the state's official voter registration database so the state would need to remove the outdated names and addresses, according to a source.

Just the News asked the Virginia Department of Elections if it is working on updating the voter registration database so third party groups do not send absentee ballot applications to the wrong addresses or to deceased people.

"The Virginia Department of Elections does not coordinate with third parties on campaign efforts. You will have to contact the third party group directly regarding their data source," a department spokesperson said. "Regarding our records management, the Department engages in ongoing and extensive annual and monthly list file maintenance processes."

The press office also referred Just the News to an on-the-record statement on their webpage about the mailings. The department encourages the public to submit absentee ballot requests directly on their website.

"The Virginia Department of Elections has no affiliation with this group nor coordinates with any third party groups on campaign efforts. We are aware that voters in multiple localities that received an absentee ballot application were given pre-paid return envelopes addressed to the incorrect registrar's office," read the statement.

"The Virginia Department of Elections encourages all voters that would like to receive an absentee ballot for the November election to apply electronically on our website www.elections.virginia.gov/voterinformation. Any applications that arrive in the wrong locality's office will be forwarded immediately to the correct office for processing. 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 September 18, 2020," the board said.

The Democratic-led House is pushing for more stimulus funding to expand vote-by-mail nationally due to the pandemic. These logistical problems in Virginia could be a sign of what's to come in other states like California and Nevada, which are automatically mailing out ballots — not absentee applications — based on information in the state voter registration database.

In 2018, Nevada election officials announced that 63,000 names in its voter registration records were found to be "inactive" voters. In June 2019, California began removing over 5 million inactive voters from its records.

Jenna Ellis, senior legal adviser to the Trump 2020 campaign, reacted to the absentee ballot application problems in Virginia and connected it to what could happen in Nevada, specifically.

"Imagine if these applications were live ballots mailed out" she said. "That's what’s going to happen in Nevada under their recently passed AB4, and what Democrats are pushing for nationally. What will stop a 'printing flub' for actual ballots under a universal vote-by-mail system? President Trump warned about these dangers months ago. The Democrats' plan to intentionally undermine election security will cause incalculable chaos unless we have securities that our campaign lawsuits are insisting on to protect all voters."

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