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Virginia Department of Elections uses facts to dispel voting myths
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Virginia Department of Elections uses facts to dispel voting myths

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Voters ballot close-up

Thousands of workers and volunteers are prepared for Election Day in Virginia on Tuesday with an added effort to combat rampant lies and falsehoods about voting and how the system works.

The Virginia Department of Elections created a ”mythbusters” website to help the public get facts instead of false information. It comes amid an ongoing effort by former President Donald Trump and some other Republicans to undercut trust in American elections.

The Department of Elections website is at www.elections.virginia.gov.

In the past, election officials liked being in the background and not being in the news, said Chris Piper, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections. If the public didn’t notice how much work went into an election, that means workers did their job.

But now, some people have filled in what they don’t understand with false information and lies, he said.

“So it’s incumbent upon us to fill in that information with the truth.”

Piper said the public needs to remember that elections are run by their friends and neighbors, and people from both major political parties.

“There are 133 general registrars, there are 499 electoral board members, and there are more than 10,000 election officers. And now when you add in the observers — this is a massive undertaking to put on an election,” he said. The election “involves thousands and thousands of people across all political spectrums, and they are all dedicated, passionate people who believe in our right to vote, who believe in our form of government.”

Here’s a look at some of the myths the department is combating:

Myth: People are voting twice or multiple times absentee and in person.

Website fact: “Both the Department of Elections and local general registrars work very hard to ensure that each ballot provided to a voter is accounted for. There is a robust system in place to ensure that voters only get to cast one ballot in each election.”

Myth: Voting machines are connected to the internet and can be hacked.

Website fact: “Voting machines in Virginia are prohibited from being connected to the internet.” All votes in Virginia are cast on verified paper ballots.

Myth: I don’t have my ID, so I can’t vote.

Website fact: “If you get to your polling place without an acceptable ID, you can sign an ID statement affirming your identity and you will be able to vote a regular ballot.”

“If you do not sign an ID statement to affirm your identity you may vote a provisional ballot, and be provided with instructions on how to ensure your vote is counted.”

Confusion on 2020 election night

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a law expanding ability to vote absentee, Virginia had a big spike in absentee voting in 2020. But that led to confusion on election night when many localities added the absentee ballots total to the results late at night, creating the impression of a shift from Republicans to Democrats as results were counted.

Some members of the public were confused about how a candidate appeared to be “winning” as results came in, and then the vote shifted significantly when absentee votes were counted, according to a 2020 post-election report by the Department of Elections.

To avoid that confusion, legislation passed this year requires localities to process those absentee votes as they come in. By the time Election Day arrives, localities should have processed absentee votes up to that point, Piper said. All absentee ballots are expected to be processed and reported shortly after polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, avoiding the previous confusion.

How votes are counted

State law allows absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day to be counted if they arrive within three days.

This Saturday, Oct. 30, is the last day to vote early in person at a registrar’s office or satellite voting location.

The election night process for counting votes is observed by representatives of political parties and candidates’ representatives. Results are locked and sealed and taken to court clerks’ offices, and the next day electoral boards begin a canvas process, done in open public meeting, to check for any errors in tabulation.

Any errors are corrected, and those changes are documented on the Department of Elections website.

Each electoral board in Virginia has two Democrats and one Republican on it; a governor’s political party gets two spots under the law.

General registrars have until Nov. 9 to send results to the Virginia Department of Elections, which will check results three times, and then the Virginia State Board of Elections will certify the results on Nov. 15 and the results will become official.

The recount process

A candidate who loses by 1% or less can request to a court within 10 days of an election that the votes be recounted.

If the margin is half a percent or less, the state pays for the recount. If it’s between half percent and 1%, the candidate must pay for the recount.

Virginia has had some close elections in modern times.

In 2013, a recount confirmed Democrat Mark Herring’s close win over Republican Mark Obenshain in the race for attorney general. Herring won by 165 votes: 1,103,777 to 1,103,612.

A tie election for a state House seat in 2017 resulted in the winner being determined by random drawing.

A lack of evidence

Claims of widespread election fraud are not backed by evidence. Earlier this month, Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, citing no evidence, told a conservative radio show host that “I know how they’re stealing elections,” and on Tuesday told him “I know how Democrats are cheating.” She said she shared her knowledge with the campaign of GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin.

The office of Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, sent a letter Thursday to Chase, asking her to provide evidence for her claims and contact the attorney general’s office so they could be investigated.

“Let’s be clear: these kinds of baseless, false claims are simply designed to undermine confidence in our democracy and our elections,” Herring said in a statement.

“If Senator Chase has any evidence of cheating or voter fraud then she has an obligation to bring it to the attention of authorities who can do something about it rather than secretively sharing this supposed ‘evidence’ with political allies.”

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