Agencies | Governor
Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Elections
State Board of Elections
Absentee Voting [1 VAC 20 ‑ 70]
Action Material omissions from absentee ballots.
Stage Final
Comment Period Ends 10/12/2011
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10/10/11  12:04 pm
Commenter: Peter Newbould, Chairman, Alexandria Electoral Board

Common sense and secure, not irrelevant exclusion

I write today to provide my personal opinion as Chairman of the Alexandria Electoral Board.  I have served on the Board since May 2008.

One of the most frustrating experiences for me has been our Board being required to disallow absentee ballots that failed to conform to every part of the “Substantial Compliance” requirements. Like salmon swimming upstream, Alexandria’s absentee voters attempt to comply with the stated instructions.  Fortunately most of them succeed.  Some, however, omit pieces of information that are clearly material such as one’s signature or a witness’s signature.  I support the proposed regulation pertaining to those items.

In the canvass of the January 13, 2009 special election for House of Delegates, our Board was presented by our Central Absentee Voter Precinct with 11 envelopes that failed the Substantial Compliance requirements.  I identified three of the 11 which I felt certainly should have been permitted to be counted.  In each case the voter provided every piece of information except the city name “Alexandria.” 

He/she filled out Envelope B fully and properly but in the address line wrote, for example, “1234 Richenbacher Avenue 22304.”  We stopped the canvass and had our Elections Administrator call SBE to inquire about this.  He explained our unanimous view that 1234 Richenbacher Avenue 22304 is a unique identifier that is in fact more descriptive than would be the permitted “1234 Richenbacher Avenue, Alexandria.”  As the US Postal Service will attest, the locality name is very often not one that follows the political boundaries of the city or county.  In our area, there are many thousands of residents of Fairfax County who have postal addresses of “Alexandria.”  The USPS Zone Improvement Plan codes are a fast way for us to identify where in Alexandria one lives. 

That night SBE staff called us back after 15 minutes to reject our request to count those three ballots.  I shook my head in bewilderment.  It just did not pass the “guy on the street” common sense test.  Think of it from the perspective of the voter, who is filling out Envelope B and about to place it in the carrier envelope with his/her FULL name and postal address pre-printed on it by the Registrar.  No wonder some people take a short cut.  Woe to those who leave out anything but their ZIP code!

Please consider an amendment that would permit the use of one’s correct ZIP code in place of the locality name.  It’s at least as accurate if not more.

I have read and agree with the earlier comments of Renee Andrews of Falls Church and Margaret Luca of Fairfax. Ms. Andrews pointed out that if Envelope B contains this year's ballot and the outer envelope is postmarked this year, it makes no sense to say the omission of the year on the voter's signature is material.  Ms. Luca asked, "Why is information that the Registrar's office puts on the envelope not enough information to count the ballot of the non-UOCAVA voter"?

To quote commenter Clifford Gerstang of Augusta County, "We should be working to simplify Envelope B and make it easier to submit the ballot, not more difficult."

CommentID: 20234