Court Blocks Virginia Plan to Count Late Ballots Without Postmarks

Court Blocks Virginia Plan to Count Late Ballots Without Postmarks
Mail-in ballots at the Salt Lake County election office in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Oct. 29, 2020. (George Frey/AFP via Getty Images)
Petr Svab

A Virginia court ordered the state to abolish a plan to accept mail-in ballots without postmarks that have arrived after the election day. The Virginia State Board of Elections advised local election boards in August that if ballots arrive up to three days after Election Day, they should still count them, even if they’re not postmarked as sent on or before election day.

Thomas Reed, local electoral board member, challenged the guidance as unlawful, represented by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a right-leaning election watchdog.

“Mr. Reed had a straightforward request: follow the law,” PILF President and General Counsel Christian Adams said in an Oct. 28 release. “The judge enjoined the Virginia State Board of Elections from issuing instructions to count late ballots without postmarks.”

Virginia law says that “any absentee ballot returned to the general registrar after the closing of the polls on election day but before noon on the third day after the election and postmarked on or before the date of the election shall be counted.”

The state’s election authorities argued, however, that the ballots should still be counted even if they lack postmarks. In that case, the voter would be asked to attest that the vote was indeed sent on or before election day.

PILF said that a postmark won’t be necessary if the ballot package at least has a post office bar code through which it can be verified when it was sent.

The Frederick County Circuit Court agreed in an Oct. 28 ruling that ballots on which the post date can’t be verified either through postmark or a bar code can’t be accepted.

Virginia used to toss any ballot that arrived after election day. In March, it passed a bill that allowed the three-day grace period after Election Day.

“Mr. Reed did have a problem with the conflicting guidance and brand-new law governing the matter,” PILF spokesman Logan Churchwell told The Epoch Times in an email.

“The Virginia Board did engage a period of public comment shortly before the lawsuit was filed. Public comments were overwhelmingly against the instructions, but the Commonwealth proceeded with the now-enjoined instructions anyway.”

Deadlines for accepting mail-in ballots differ from state to state. Some require the ballot to arrive by Election Day. Others allow later arrival, as long as the package is postmarked on Election Day or the day prior.

Election authorities are handling a record volume of mail in ballots this year because many people worry about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic and some states have also expanded access to mail voting.

In Virginia, 2.3 million ballots have already been cast, nearly 60 percent of all votes cast in the state in 2016, according to the U.S. Elections Project. Of those, almost 1.5 million, were cast early in person, while the rest were sent by mail.

PILF has been sounding alarm about the extent of mail voting, arguing many states aren’t ready to handle the deluge. It seems, however, that the mail voting so far has been spread over a longer period of time this year, mitigating the impact.

Republicans have warned that mail voting is prone to fraud. There is some evidence of illegal activity related to mail voting, but the extent of the phenomenon remains opaque. Available data indicates Democrats are much more likely to vote by mail, particularly this year.