Every election, which is to say every year in Virginia, we hear myths and half-truths about voter registration, ballots, and voting. Granted, some of the confusion comes from the fact that rules do vary somewhat from state to state.
This is Part 1 of 4 to set things straight about how elections work in Virginia. Here, we address myths about ballots.
Myth 1: Absentee ballots aren’t counted unless the race results are close.
This is probably the most common misconception we encounter. In Virginia, all absentee ballots received by 7 pm on Election Day are counted. In Arlington as in most localities, they are listed as a separate “Central Absentee” precinct in our precinct results. Because we have many more absentee voters than voters in any one precinct for almost all elections, they are typically among the last results to get reported.
In some other states – Maryland, for example – absentee ballots aren’t counted until days after the election because their deadline for receipt is later. But they are counted, in every state.
Myth 2: Provisional ballots aren’t counted unless there is a tie, or they aren’t counted at all.
Provisional ballots are given to voters if they don’t have valid photo ID or if there is some question about their eligibility. This gives staff time to conduct research before the Electoral Board meets the day after the election. The Electoral Board counts any provisional ballots where the voter’s eligibility can be verified, or if a voter without ID on Election Day presents proper ID by noon on the third day after the election.
It is true that not ALL provisional ballots get counted. If it is determined that the voter is not properly registered or showed up to vote at the wrong polling place, the Electoral Board must reject the provisional ballot.
Myth 3: The position of the candidates on the ballot shows favoritism.
There’s actually a method to ballot order, but it has nothing to do with favoritism, except that political party nominees are listed first. For political party candidates, the ballot order is based on a random drawing conducted by the Virginia State Board of Elections. The order of the two major political parties – Democratic and Republican – are drawn first, followed by a separate drawing to determine the order of any third-party candidates (i.e. Libertarian, Green, Constitutional, etc.). If there are independent candidates for a particular office, they are listed after the party candidates in the order that the candidates filed their qualifying paperwork to appear on the ballot.
For primary elections, candidates are listed in the order in which they qualify for the ballot.
The previous post, Ballot Layout Can be a Confusing Thing, also addresses candidate order on the ballot.
Myth 4: All write-in votes are counted and listed on the election results.
While it is true that you can write in whomever or whatever you want for all offices on general or special election ballots, your selection may not necessarily count. Any votes cast that are determined by election officials to be invalid are definitely not counted. This includes selections like “Mickey Mouse” or “None of the Above.”
If you write in a valid name, that selection will count as a write-in vote, but those names won’t be listed on the results unless the total number of write-ins exceeds 10% of the total votes cast for the office. While write-ins for each precinct are available for inspection at the Elections Office, they won’t appear on any official results if the total number falls below the 10% threshold.
In some local elections, such as in towns or small cities, there may not be enough qualified candidates on the ballot for all the offices, so the winner may be determined by voter write-ins. But this usually doesn’t happen in federal or state offices. In these cases, the write-in would be listed on the official results.
The rules are different for Presidential elections. Only write-in selections for candidates who have filed as write-in candidates with the State Board of Elections will be counted; all other write-in selections are invalid. While these valid write-ins do appear on the official election abstracts filed with the State Board of Elections, they would not appear on official results unless the total number exceeded 10% of the votes cast.
Myth 5: If you voted by absentee ballot and want to change your vote, you can ask for a new ballot.
Although a few states allow absentee voters to change their votes, Virginia does not. You cannot change your selections once your vote is cast, and for absentee voters by mail, that is considered to be when you place your voted ballot in the mail.
If you make a mistake when you are marking your mailed absentee ballot, however, you can contact the office and ask for a new ballot, provided you have not yet mailed your ballot.
Next up on Election Mythbusters: Polling place myths
Posted September 18, 2018
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