Ab­sen­tee votes

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - From staff and wire re­ports Scott Shenk of The Free Lance Star and Patrick Wil­son of the Rich­mond Times-Dis­patch con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Stafford of­fi­cials de­fer de­ci­sion on count­ing bal­lots.

A con­tro­versy over ab­sen­tee bal­lots in Stafford County that could help de­ter­mine which party con­trols the state leg­is­la­ture next year will linger for at least an­other day.

Stafford’s elec­toral board voted 2-1 on Mon­day to de­lay un­til Tues­day a de­ci­sion about cer­ti­fy­ing ab­sen­tee and pro­vi­sional bal­lots — the bal­lots cast by vot­ers who show up at the polls with­out proper ID.

Of­fi­cials with the Demo­cratic Party of Vir­ginia said last week that Stafford elec­tions of­fi­cials were re­fus­ing to count 55 ab­sen­tee bal­lots that ar­rived at the reg­is­trar’s post of­fice box on Elec­tion Day.

Doug Filler, the elec­toral board chair­man, said the board’s de­lay will give any­one with ques­tions about their vote time to come for­ward. Af­ter a closed ses­sion, he said the board voted to re­quest a ju­di­cial opin­ion on the votes in ques­tion.

Joshua Cole, the Demo­cratic can­di­date for the 28th District House of Del­e­gates seat, was at the court­house as the elec­toral board be­gan the process of cer­ti­fy­ing last Tues­day’s elec­tion re­sults. Un­of­fi­cial re­turns showed Repub­li­can Bob Thomas de­feat­ing Cole by 83 votes out of 23,000 cast in Stafford and Fred­er­icks­burg.

The 28th District race is among three races in which the of­fi­cial out­comes will de­ter­mine whether Democrats or Repub­li­cans con­trol the Vir­ginia House of Del­e­gates. Democrats won 49 seats in the 100-mem­ber House last Tues­day, but trail in the un­of­fi­cial re­sults for the 28th, 40th (Fair­fax) and 94th (New­port News) dis­tricts.

Repub­li­cans held a 66-34 ad­van­tage in the House of Del­e­gates go­ing into the elec­tion, where a back­lash against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump helped Democrats gain at least 15 seats. As things stand, the House makeup in Jan­uary would be 51-49 Repub­li­can — but that out­come de­pends on the vote count­ing that’s un­der­way.

Ac­cord­ing to the elec­toral board, 55 ab­sen­tee bal­lots were ap­par­ently re­ceived at the post of­fice but not the reg­is­trar’s of­fice by the 7 p.m. dead­line on Elec­tion Day.

Reg­is­trar Greg Rid­dle­moser has said that be­cause the dead­line was Tues­day evening, state law re­quires him to ig­nore the bal­lots. Democrats said last week that the bal­lots came from mil­i­tary per­son­nel, but Rid­dle­moser said in news re­lease that they in­cluded all types of ab­sen­tee bal­lots.

The un­counted bal­lots in ques­tion could also af­fect a race for the Stafford Board of Su­per­vi­sors.

Demo­crat Laura Sell­ers, the in­cum­bent Gar­ri­son-ville District rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Stafford Board of Su­per­vi­sors, un­of­fi­cially lost by 15 votes to Repub­li­can L. Mark Du­den­hefer, a mem­ber of the House of Del­e­gates who did not seek re-elec­tion to the leg­is­la­ture. She said she had lawyers pre­par­ing a le­gal chal­lenge to have the ab­sen­tee votes counted.

Sell­ers crit­i­cized Rid­dle­moser and said elec­toral board mem­bers have been “in­tim­i­dated.”

Sev­eral dozen Democrats chanted and waved signs out­side the Stafford court­house Mon­day morn­ing in protest over the han­dling of the bal­lots.

The pro­test­ers chanted “Ev­ery vote counts” and “Do your job. Count the vote” and waved signs crit­i­ciz­ing Rid­dle­moser.

In Vir­ginia, lo­cal elec­toral boards have three mem­bers who serve stag­gered three-year terms. They are ap­pointed by the lo­cal cir­cuit court, with the po­lit­i­cal party of the gov­er­nor, in this case Demo­crat Terry McAuliffe, get­ting to nom­i­nate two of the mem­bers. The bi­par­ti­san board, in turn, ap­points the reg­is­trar to a four-year term.

The elec­toral board pre­pares bal­lots, over­sees elec­tions and cer­ti­fies the vote count. The law re­quires board mem­bers and the reg­is­trar to act in a non­par­ti­san man­ner.

The Stafford elec­toral board will meet again at 10 a.m. Tues­day at the court­house.

The Vir­ginia House Demo­cratic Cau­cus is­sued a state­ment from at­tor­ney Marc Elias that said its mem­bers would be mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion “and re­main con­cerned that mil­i­tary and over­seas vot­ers may have been im­prop­erly dis­en­fran­chised in vi­o­la­tion of the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion and fed­eral and state law . ... We will do ev­ery­thing we can to en­sure that ev­ery el­i­gi­ble voter has his or her vote counted in this elec­tion.”


Josephine Kamel of Fred­er­icks­burg chants with other pro­test­ers, call­ing on the reg­is­trar to count all ab­sen­tee bal­lots, out­side Stafford County’s gov­ern­ment build­ing.

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