An unknown number of voters in six Stafford County precincts cast ballots in the wrong races Tuesday.
Virginia Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said that voters were assigned to the right districts in the state’s database, but when that data was downloaded into precinct poll booths, a snafu resulted in voters being offered wrong ballots. Piper said the issue was resolved within the hour.
“Unfortunately, some voters had ballots in wrong districts. We still don’t have exact numbers,” Piper said, adding that the state won’t have clarity on how the error occurred “for some time.”
Because ballots are untied from voters’ identities, erroneous ballots can’t be corrected, nor can voters offered wrong ballots cast votes in the right races.
“You can’t retrieve it, take it out, or replace it,” Piper said. “For those voters, that’s it.”
It’s the second consecutive General Assembly race in which voters in Stafford County received incorrect ballots. In 2017, elections for the same three House districts were affected by an error in the state database that resulted in voters getting incorrect ballots.
One of the 2017 races — the 28th House District contest between Del. Bob Thomas, R-Stafford, and Democrat Joshua Cole — came down to just 73 votes. The state determined 147 people received wrong ballots, but a court ruled it would not intervene.
Cole is up again in the 28th House District, this time against Republican Paul Milde, a former Stafford County supervisor. Milde defeated Thomas in the GOP primary.
The other races potentially affected are the contest for the 2nd House District between Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, and Republican Heather Mitchell; and the contest for the 88th House District between Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania and Democrat Jess Foster.
House Democratic Caucus spokeswoman Kathryn Gilley said the issue was resolved quickly but urged “any voter who feels they may have been affected to call the voter protection hotline.”
Milde campaign manager Dustin Curtis said he is “deeply disturbed by the ballot irregularities.”
“How many Republican voters were denied ballots with Paul Milde’s name on it is unclear. At minimum, the Stafford elections office owes an apology to our entire community for this egregious incompetence,” he said. “We are, at this point, continuing to gather facts before considering any potential legal action.”
Jennifer Daglio got to the polls early Tuesday and was met with a surprise.
Shortly after 8 a.m., she arrived at First Presbyterian Church off Cary Street Road in Richmond to vote in an election that will decide the makeup of the General Assembly. Daglio was informed, though, that there were no ballots for her state Senate district, where Sen. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat, is seeking re-election against libertarian Mark Lewis. The church also serves as a voting precinct for the Senate's 10th district.
Daglio was given two options: wait or come back later. She waited, but was still frustrated.
"The fact that they ran out of ballots at all, much less that it happened at 8 a.m. when the polling station had been open for only two hours, was a source of frustration for many," she said.
Laura Swanson said she voted at the same precinct around 7:30 a.m. with no issues.
"It was busy, but there weren't huge lines," Swanson said. "I was shocked they ran out of ballots. 8 a.m. is prime time to vote."
Richmond's general registrar, J. Kirk Showalter, said the precinct had 150 ballots for the 9th district to start because the city's internal calculations were that the 10th district, where Republican Sen. Glen Sturtevant is in a tough re-election fight, would see a higher turnout.
Once they found out about the shortage of 9th district ballots, Showalter said, another 1,200 were sent to the church. Those arrived at 8:14 a.m., she said.
"Our apologies to any voters who were inconvenienced because of this," Showalter said, adding that it was the city's "only hiccup" so far.
Voters across Virginia are taking to the ballot Tuesday with every seat in the state legislature up for grabs. Polls opened at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m., but anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
"You're supposed to have a say in what goes on in governmental affairs," said William Mason, 73, who cast his ballot around 6:45 a.m. at the Randolph Community Center in Richmond. "You don't have any reason to complain if you don't vote."
As of 10:25 a.m., more than 850 people had voted at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in South Richmond. A precinct worker said turnout was "huge" for an off-year legislative election, with about 200 people per hour casting ballots. Turnout, volunteers said, had been so strong they could "barely keep up."
The marquee matchup between Sturtevant and Democrat Ghazala Hashmi is the only contested race on the ballot in that precinct.
That race could prove critical in the fight for control of the Senate. Republicans hold 20 seats and Democrats 19, with one seat vacant.
Gov. Ralph Northam voted at Richmond's Main Library around 8 a.m. Other voters at the city's library were especially inspired by having all 100 seats of the House of Delegates and all 40 seats of the Senate up for election.
Chris Valdez, 39, said it's especially important to vote in state elections where decisions about day-to-day life are made.
"This is way more important than voting for president," he said.
Some voters were motivated by the first year of new House district boundaries, which were court-ordered.
Jason Wheeler, a 35-year-old from Chesterfield County, was previously in the district of House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, but was rezoned for another race.
"The redistricting should help the fairness," said Wheeler. "There's a lot at risk with this election."
At Robious Elementary School in northern Chesterfield, voters lined up in a cafeteria awaiting their chance to cast ballots at voting booths lined up in front of a massive painting of an American flag.
Alan Boese, a deputy chief election officer at the Robious precinct, said shortly after 9 a.m. that turnout had been “very steady.”
“This precinct generally has a relatively high percentage turnout,” Boese said.
Outside the school, Republican supervisor Leslie Haley and her Democratic challenger Javaid Siddiqi were greeting voters on their way into the polls.
At St. Michael's Episcopal Church in Bon Air, voters were lined up almost back to the door of a fellowship hall around 10 a.m. awaiting their chance to cast a ballot.
John Hilliard, the chief election officer for the Bon Air voting precinct said turnout had been "moderate to heavy," adding that voters seemed to be taking their time going over the ballots.
"There's a lot of the stuff on the ballots. People are looking at the ballots two, three or four times to make sure they are doing it right," Hilliard said.
Chesterfield County as a whole had seen a turnout rate of 35% as of 4 p.m., according to data from County Registrar Constance L. Hargrove. More than 89,000 people had voted, Hargrove said. In 2015, 69,958 people voted total.
Volunteers and election officials at South Anna Elementary School in Hanover County also said turnout had been relatively strong Tuesday morning.
Wayne Hazzard, the South Anna District representative on the Board of Supervisors who is retiring this year, said he thinks Democrats and Republicans are equally energized to vote, as both chambers of the Virginia legislature are at stake. "People are starting to realize that Virginia is at a dividing line," he said. "Absolutely it's pivotal."
Standing away from the school handing out sample ballots to incoming voters, volunteers with each party described what appears to be motivating turnout.
"People in Hanover like things to stay calm and consistent," said Mary Frances Gilman, a volunteer for Sue Dibble, the Republican candidate running to succeed Hazzard. "I think the weather also helps. It's a great day to vote."
Across from Gilman, at a table featuring literature for Democratic candidates such as Clara James Scott, Dibble's opponent, Russ Johnson said he thinks presidential politics may also be influencing voters' decisions Tuesday despite the fact that no federal-level offices are on the ballot.
"I think people are upset with what's going on in Washington," he said. "I think it's fired them up and is getting them out there."
At the Crestview Elementary School polling precinct in western Henrico County, election officials and campaign volunteers said there had been a strong turnout throughout the morning.
With 367 votes cast there by 9 a.m., according to the precinct captain, a steady trickle of old and young people, some with children or their elderly parents, and at least one girl in a punk rock band’s sweater, were still arriving to vote.
Carrie Rabren, a Democratic volunteer, said she was surprised to hear a New York-based syndicated radio show this morning discussing today’s elections in Virginia.
“I think there’s been a lot of hype,” she said of all the political ads that have proliferated on television and radio in recent weeks. “It’s just been an explosion. So I think that’s made people more apt to vote.”
With his daughter on his hip, Stephen Pyzowski said he hopes that turnout will be good throughout Virginia today.
“These are the elections that matter,” he said. “Trump has such little effect on our lives here, it’s really about our state officials, county supervisors and school boards.”
Even in Eastern Henrico's Fairfield district, where there are no competitive state-level races on the ballot, nearly 600 people had come to vote at the Maplewood Precinct at Abundant Life Church of Christ, according to precinct officials.
After casting his ballot there, Donald Clement, who identifies as an independent, said his frustration with President Donald Trump has motivated him to vote as often as he can now, even in local and state elections. "Even if it's just a local election, perhaps those people can make things go up the ladder," he said.