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.