Nonprofit Sends Thousands Of Erroneous Absentee Ballot Applications To Fairfax County A D.C. non-profit dedicated to helping people vote absentee this November is instead causing a major headache for Fairfax County election officials.
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NPR logo Nonprofit Sends Thousands Of Erroneous Absentee Ballot Applications To Fairfax County

Nonprofit Sends Thousands Of Erroneous Absentee Ballot Applications To Fairfax County

Nearly half a million voters in Fairfax County, Va. received absentee ballot applications with bad information on them. In this March 15, 2016, file photo, a primary election voter casts a provisional ballot at a polling place in Westerville, Ohio. Matt Rourke/AP Photo hide caption

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Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Fairfax County election officials rushed to reassure voters Thursday after a D.C. non-profit organization mailed residents nearly half a million absentee ballot applications with the wrong return address on them.

"Some [voters] think it's a scam, some of them think it's an attempt at voter suppression, when in reality it's just a third-party group trying to do a mailing and they didn't do a very good followup," said Gary Scott, director of elections for Fairfax County.

The Center for Voter Information, a non-profit based in D.C., mailed the applications and said it would rectify errors at its own expense.

"We are aware that some of the mailers may have directed the return envelopes to the wrong election offices, particularly in the Fairfax area of Northern Virginia," the group wrote in a statement. "We know voters are on high alert as the November election approaches, and we regret adding to any confusion."

Scott said there were two problems with the absentee ballots. The first was that voters in Fairfax County were issued return envelopes addressed to Fairfax City, which has a separate elections office. The second issue was that the applications were partially filled with voters' information, and in some cases the information was wrong.

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Scott said Fairfax County will work with Fairfax City to get the incorrectly addressed applications to the right place. They could represent a substantial part of the county's voters. Of the more than 700,000 registered voters in Fairfax County, some 450,000 of them received applications with incorrect ballots. Scott said his office faced a torrent of time-consuming calls from concerned voters.

"We've lost all day so far," he said.

Scott said concerned voters should apply on the Virginia Department of Elections site for an absentee ballot. He advised groups like Center for Voter Information to steer voters to the website as well.

For November's election, Virginia plans on opening polling places for in-person voting. Voters must request an absentee ballot before the election. It is getting easier to vote by mail; whereas in the past, voters needed to explain why they were voting absentee, this year the General Assembly did away with that requirement.

The League of Women Voters said similar mistakes were made in Roanoake City and Roanoke County.

The mistaken information was used for applications for mail-in ballots. The absentee ballots themselves will be mailed starting September 18, according to the group. The deadline to register to vote is October 13, and the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is October 23.

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