Fight over 55 uncounted ballots could swing Virginia state House

Fight over 55 uncounted ballots could swing Virginia state House
© Greg Nash

Democrats believe 55 unopened and uncounted absentee ballots in Stafford County could be the key to their party taking control of the Virginia House of Delegates.

They need to flip one more seat to take control of the Virginia House after taking 15 districts from Republicans in last week's election wave.

The outcomes in three districts are up for a recount, including House District 28, which includes part of Stafford County. The county is in the northeast of the state and part of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

In the district, Joshua Cole (D) trails Republican Rob Thomas by fewer than 90 votes, a deficit that could be overcome if the recount — and uncounted ballots — favor Cole.

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But those 55 uncounted ballots are now at the center of a legal fight.

Greg Riddlemoser, the Stafford County registrar, told Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Edgardo Cortés in an email that he received the ballots at 10 a.m. the day after Election Day.

For that reason, the Stafford County Electoral Board voted Tuesday against counting the ballots, citing the law.

Virginia’s state election laws say that absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Unlike other jurisdictions across Virginia, Stafford County does not put unique bar codes on each ballot envelope, so there is no way to track exactly when the ballots arrived at the post office.

The board's decision has Democrats crying foul, and they are calling for the ballots to be included in the recount.

County election officials are defending their decision to exclude the ballots.

“We do not have the legal right to require those votes to be accepted at this point, simply because there is no firm documentation as to whether they were received in a timely fashion or not,” Doug Filler, the county election board chairman, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, told WTOP.

Republican-appointed board member Gloria Chittum also voted to not count the ballots.

“I voted that we not count them because of the law that says that we cannot,” she told WTOP.

There are a number of questions surrounding the ballots.

The ballots were previously reported to belong to armed service members and civilians overseas. The exact number of military ballots, though, is uncertain.

It is also not known how many of the 55 uncounted ballots were intended to be cast in the 28th House of Delegates district.

The county election board’s jurisdiction also includes House District 88, where a GOP incumbent defeated the Democratic challenger by more than 4,000 votes.

"There is no possible way in my military mind that these ballots should not have been available to us on Election Day before close-of-polls," Riddlemoser wrote to Cortés.

"Maybe 55 [votes] would have swung one or both?" he added, referring to the House of Delegates race in the 28th and an even tighter Board of Supervisors race in Garrisonville.

Riddlemoser did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

Democrats are now stepping up their fight by taking it to the courts.

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus hired political lawyer Marc Elias, who filed suit against the state and local electoral officials Tuesday night, alleging that the 55 voters whose votes weren’t counted are being deprived of their right to vote.

“These voters did everything right,” Elias said.