Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, absentee ballots are the encouraged voting method this year. A longtime Democrat, Caren Converse recently opened hers to discover her candidates to choose from were the three Republicans facing off against each other this month for a chance to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in November.
Converse, who moved to the area last fall to retire near her son, planned to vote for one of the Democratic candidates for the 5th Congressional District. Frustrated, she contacted the Albemarle County registrar office to learn that she was not the only person who had received the wrong ballot.
“I became very concerned for people who might be waiting until the last minute to vote or decide on a candidate and then possibly not be able to vote after all,” Converse explained.
Registrar Jake Washburne said the most absentee ballots his office has ever mailed out for any election was 4,445 during the 2016 presidential election, while for the upcoming June 23 primaries, they have already mailed out 7,164 — 6,621 of those were Democratic and 543 were Republican.
While the exact number of how many people received the wrong ballot for this election was not revealed, Washburne says it is higher than a normal election year due to the spike in absentee ballots because of COVID-19.
Washburne attributes the error to the online absentee application, which contains three clickable bubbles: June 2020 Democratic primary, June 2020 Republican primary or the November general election.
He says that the people his office has heard from about receiving the wrong ballot had clicked the wrong bubble
“Those three bubbles are stacked one on top of each other very close. So if you don’t set your mouse exactly on the right bubble, you inadvertently order the wrong ballot,” Washburn explained. “Sort of like doing an online purchase of pants and you want the ones that are charcoal gray but right next to charcoal gray there is navy blue, and the mouse arrow grabs navy blue instead of charcoal gray.”
Washburne says voters should open their ballots as soon as they can to make sure it is accurate and continue the process of voting. If it is wrong, he says people should contact their registrar office immediately to inform them.
With the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot approaching next week — June 16 — those who have yet to vote need to request a ballot by then, and it must be received by the registrar by June 23 or it won’t count.
Washburne said that waiting to request a ballot any longer is “pushing it” and urges voters to not delay.
However, if a ballot is incorrect, the only way to resolve the matter is to visit the registrar’s office to receive a new ballot and vote there.
“I went through, I think, half a bottle of hand sanitizer,” Converse said of her trip to vote.
Though absentee ballots are the primary method of voting during the coronavirus pandemic, election officials are preparing for walk-in voting on Election Day, as well.
In the meantime, Washburne said his team is still finalizing COVID protocols for polling places on Election Day and announcements should be expected soon.
Albemarle County Registrar phone: (434) 972-4173
City of Charlottesville Registrar phone: (434) 970-3250