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Myth-busting the Vote
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Myth-busting the Vote

A look at how the election will really happen in Alexandria

Voters can drop their absentee ballots in a drop box rather than dropping them in the mail.

Voters can drop their absentee ballots in a drop box rather than dropping them in the mail. Photo by Michael Lee Pope.

As a result of the pandemic, voters who usually vote at the Ladrey Senior Building will be voting at the Charles Houston Recreation Center, and voters who usually vote at the Hermitage will vote at John Adams Elementary School. Also, because of construction at MacArthur Elementary School, voters who usually vote there will be voting at the George Washington Masonic Temple.

For most Alexandria voters expected to cast a ballot this year, Election Day has already come and gone. The unprecedented spike in early voting comes at a time when the city is battling a deadly pandemic and a whirlwind of misinformation. Here are a few myths about the election this year and why they are wrong.

MYTH: Voter fraud is rampant.

FALSE. Voter fraud is extremely rare. The most comprehensive investigation of this was conducted by Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola University and fellow at the Brennan Center. He looked at one billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, and he could find only 31 credible allegations of a voter pretending to be someone else at the polls. That's 0.000003 percent. Even the commission launched by the Trump administration in 2017 specifically to explore the threat of voter fraud uncovered no evidence to support claims of widespread voter fraud. Here in Alexandria, prosecutors convicted a volunteer of submitting falsified voter registration applications in 2016. None of the applications were ever processed.

MYTH: Election results in Virginia are expected to be delayed for days because of absentee votes.

FALSE. Election officials plan to report election returns the night of the election. By 11 pm on election night, according to guidance from the Virginia Department of Elections, registrars across Virginia will stop counting mail-in ballots and report what they have. Because election officials in Virginia are allowed to pre-process absentee ballots, tabulating them is only a matter of closing out the machines that count the votes. Any absentee ballots that haven't yet been counted by 11 pm on election night will be added to the updated returns later in the week.

MYTH: Mail-in absentee ballots are thrown out if they wouldn't change the results of an election.

FALSE: All valid ballots are counted. Election officials in Virginia do not ever throw out absentee ballots because they would not change the outcome of elections. Sometimes ballots are invalidated because voters fail to sign the envelope that has an oath asking voters to pledge they are who they say they are. Because of recent legislation approved by the recent special session of the General Assembly, election officials can now reach out and contact voters whose ballots were rejected because of material omissions and allow them to cure their ballot.

MYTH: Mail-in absentee voters are required to obtain the signature of a witness.

FALSE: Back in August, a federal court approved a consent decree negotiated by Attorney General Mark Herring allowing election officials to accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness for this election because of the pandemic. No witness signatures are required for mail-in absentee ballots, and no ballots will be rejected because they don't include the signature of a witness. Unfortunately, some envelopes have now-outdated language about the witness signature requirements, which do not apply in this election.

MYTH: Ballots that are postmarked by Election Day will be thrown out if they don't arrive by the time polls close.

FALSE: Earlier this year, the new Democratic majorities in the House of Delegates and state Senate changed the law on this. As of July, votes that are postmarked by Election Day will be counted as long as they arrive by the Friday after the election at noon. That means the unofficial returns that will be reported on election night will not be the final numbers. Alexandria election officials plan to update the unofficial returns with the late-arriving absentee ballots on Friday or Saturday.

Researchers looked at one billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, and could find only 31 credible allegations of a voter pretending to be someone else at the polls. That's 0.000003 percent.

MYTH: Undocumented immigrants are allowed to vote.

FALSE: The application for registering to vote in Virginia includes a part that asks applicants to affirm citizenship. People who are not citizens are not allowed to register to vote. In the event that a non-citizen engages in fraud and registers to vote anyway, election officials can remove them if they learn of a voter's undocumented status from the Department of Motor Vehicles. In 2018, the League of United Latin American Citizens filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Virginians who accused an Indianapolis-based group known as the Public Interest Research Group of defaming them in its 2016 report “Alien Invasion in Virginia” or its 2017 sequel, “Alien Invasion II.” The reports misidentified them as undocumented; the plaintiffs were actually American citizens.

MYTH: Absentee ballots will be thrown out if the signature on the ballot does not match the one on file.

FALSE: Virginia does not require that signatures on the envelope containing mail-in ballots match the signature on file with the state. Although the envelopes must include the signature of the voter who is signing an oath affirming they are who they say they are, nobody is checking to see if that signature matches a signature on file anywhere else.

MYTH: Voters can cast an absentee ballot and then vote again at the precinct on Election Day.

FALSE: Any voter who has asked for and received an absentee ballot will have a red flag on their record. If they show up to vote, they'll be referred to the help desk to figure out why they haven't returned their absentee ballot and what they can do to resolve the situation. In some cases, the voter might be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. Those ballots would only be counted in the final vote tally if evidence exists to show the absentee ballot was not delivered in time or did not arrive in time. If the Electoral Board determines the voter has committed fraud, the commonwealth's attorney might charge the voter with a felony.

MYTH: All precincts in Alexandria will be located in their usual places.

FALSE: Three precincts will be voting in different locations this year, two because of the pandemic and one because of construction. Two precincts are located at senior centers, which are now off-limits because senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to covid-19. As a result, voters who usually vote at the Ladrey Senior Building will be voting at the Charles Houston Recreation Center and voters who usually vote at the Hermitage will vote at John Adams Elementary School. Also, because of construction at MacArthur Elementary School, voters who usually vote there will instead be voting at the George Washington Masonic Temple.

MYTH: Election officials have a running tally of how many votes each of the candidates have received so far.

FALSE: Ballots can be pre-processed before Election Day, but no ballots are tabulated until after the polls close. Pre-processing is all the time-consuming work of removing the ballots from the envelopes, checking to make sure all the necessary information has been included and stacking the pieces of paper so they can easily be fed into the tabulation machines. Election officials don't start tabulating the votes until after the polls close.