Chaotic Virginia Election Shows Need for Clearer Absentee Reporting

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It was a good day for Donald Trump in Virginia — strong in-person Election Day turnout drove the president ahead of challenger Joe Biden with 52 percent of the vote by 11 p.m. But that shifted between 11 p.m. November 3 and 5 a.m November 4, according to reporting by conservative newsblog The Gateway Pundit.

Biden gained over 850,000 votes during this period while Trump gained around 318,000. As more early votes were counted, Biden took the overall win — 2,412,893 votes to Trump’s 1,962,325, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). A VPAP visualization shows that Trump overwhelmingly won the Election Day vote with 61.5 percent, while Biden won early votes by 64.7 percent. VPAP reported record turnout in Virginia, marked by major increases in Trump turnout in rural counties.

But Republicans were concerned. “Confusion and chaos were the operative words for this election,” said former Vice-Chair of the Board of Elections Clara Belle Wheeler (R).

Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) lost in his bid to be a U.S. congressman — after 14,616 absentee votes appeared on an overlooked drive in Henrico County. The Chesterfield GOP complained that the Chesterfield County Registrar allegedly blocked a GOP representative from the room while provisional ballots were considered. Before Election Day, the Lynchburg GOP sued the Lynchburg Registrar for allegedly processing absentee ballots without a GOP representative present. Wheeler also noted that in multiple locations Republican poll-watchers were not allowed to sit or stand behind election officers at electronic poll books, in violation of Virginia law.

Wheeler said, “There were so many new election laws, there was effectively no education for the registrars and the electoral boards, and the data that was given by the Department of Elections to the registrars changed day-to-day.”

The final certification of the results has been repeatedly delayed while the Richmond Registrar’s office copes with a COVID-19 outbreak. On Tuesday, Registrar Kirk Showalter said she expected the results to be ready Tuesday so the Board of Elections can certify the results Wednesday.

On Monday, Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson sent a letter to the state Board of Elections asking them not to certify the results.

“Over 64 percent of all votes were reported in just 5 percent of precincts – the central absentee precincts in each jurisdiction. And those central absentee precincts results weren’t broken down by the different types of early votes – in person, by mail, or at the much-maligned drop-off locations.,” Anderson wrote. “Election night reporting was nothing less than chaotic and has led many Virginians to distrust the results – and with good reason.

However, current State Board of Elections Vice-Chair John O’Bannon (R) told The Virginia Star, “The Board chose to not delay the certification of most of the races in Virginia.”

“Here’s the deal: We drastically changed the way that Virginia votes. we opened it up 45 days, drop boxes, much more absentee ballots by mail, every one of those votes gets counted in a separate precinct called CAP — Central Absentee Precinct. And so, all of the sudden you had a dramatic increase in the number of ballots in that CAP,” O’Bannon said.

“And there was a lot of pressure to get those counted. That was what led to some of the confusion on [Election] night. So there are lots of opportunities if the public wants early voting to go ahead and make that CAP process smoother,” O’Bannon added.

He said that he’s as disappointed as other Republicans over the results.

“Voter fraud is always an issue. There’s no evidence that voter fraud in Virginia would change any of the outcomes of these elections.” O’Bannon said. “The scale of it is not big enough to make any changes.”

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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network.  Email tips to [email protected].







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