RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Democrats are suing Richmond's top elections official to get a list of absentee voters whose ballots contain errors that need to be corrected in order for them to be counted in the Nov. 3 election.
In a lawsuit filed late Monday in Richmond City Circuit Court, the Democratic Party of Virginia alleges that Richmond General Registrar J. Kirk Showalter has failed to turn over a complete list of absentee voters with ballots containing errors or omissions.
Party officials say they use the lists to contact voters to remind them they need to fix their ballots. They allege that Showalter's failure to turn over the list is a violation of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.
Democratic Party Chairwoman Susan Swecker said Showalter has been “inexplicably stonewalling” the party's efforts to resolve problems with voters' absentee ballots.
“The Democratic Party of Virginia is dedicated to making sure that every vote counts in this critical election. Part of that effort is a rigorous voter protection program to resolve issues with absentee ballots, and registrars across the Commonwealth have been very helpful in sharing information with us to aid in that process," she said.
“Every vote matters, and doing everything we can to ensure they are counted is the right thing to do,” she added.
Showalter declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that Swecker contacted Showalter on Oct. 9 to request records related to absentee voters whose ballots have been identified as containing errors and omissions. The complaint says that Showalter initially denied she had any responsive records and then produced only limited information.
The lawsuit seeks a temporary injunction to “prevent irreparable harm” to the Democratic Party “and the Richmond voters who have attempted to vote absentee in this election, but whose ballots will be rejected if they are not cured."
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted record-setting numbers of voters to vote by absentee ballot or through early in-person voting offered at locations around the state. As of Tuesday morning, nearly 2.1 million votes had been cast. Virginia has about 6 million registered voters.
Absentee ballots can contain errors or omissions that will render the ballot invalid if not corrected. Some errors include a voter's failure to provide their last name or a signature on an envelope in which voters are instructed to place their ballots.
If the general registrar rejects a ballot, the registrar is required to attempt to notify the voter within three days to inform the voter that they are entitled to “cure,” or fix the problem. If the voter makes the correction by noon on Nov. 6, the voter's ballot will be counted.
The Democratic Party of Virginia said it is working to notify voters about any problems with their ballots.
“They assist these voters in timely curing these deficiencies to prevent them from being disenfranchised,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit does not contain an estimate for the number of absentee ballots in Richmond that contain errors. But it says that in Norfolk, a similar-sized city, 133 absentee ballots currently need to be fixed. Norfolk has a population of about 242,000 people, while Richmond's population is about 230,000.
The lawsuit asks the court to order Showalter to turn over all records related to absentee ballots containing errors by Wednesday.