Residents across the state have received mailed-in absentee ballot applications, but not from the Virginia Department of Elections or local registrar offices.
Instead, a third-party organization called the Center for Voter Information has been flooding mailboxes and raising questions with registered voters.
Lisa Gooden, director of elections for Rockingham County, said Friday the phone at the office has been ringing with people asking about the mail they received.
Inside the letter is a message from the Center for Voter Information, a postage-paid envelope and application for an absentee ballot with the voter’s name and address filled out.
“It is a valid form that can be used, but if voters have already submitted an application, they don’t need to do it again,” Gooden said. “Folks who already received an application might be confused [by the third-party mail], but if they want to discard it they can.”
According to its website, the Center for Voter Information is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that “works to provide even-handed and unbiased information about candidates and their positions on issues.”
On the website, the organization explained the mailing process and that it sent valid voter registration forms to people who are not registered at their current address.
In a previous interview with the Daily News-Record, Gooden said the county received 1,041 requests for absentee ballots by mail as of July 28.
Gooden said with third-party mail, a group or organization will purchase a list of registered voters from a state’s Department of Elections, but the list could either be an older version or a newer list. She added that she did not know whether the list of registered voters the Center for Voter Information paid for was a new list or not.
On Thursday, the Virginia Department of Elections released a statement saying it was not affiliated with the group and had not coordinated with any third-party groups on campaign efforts.
“We are aware that voters in multiple localities that received an absentee ballot application were given pre-paid return envelopes addressed to the incorrect registrar’s office,” according to the statement. “Any applications that arrive in the wrong locality’s office will be forwarded immediately to the correct office for processing.”
Gooden said it is up to the voter to decide if they want to vote by mail and send in an application. Those who do submit an application will have their absentee ballot mailed on Sept. 18.
“If a voter files an absentee ballot application to receive a ballot by mail, it is best if the voter returns the ballot by mail to the Voter Registrar’s Office or if the voter personally hand delivers the ballot to the office,” Gooden said. “Voters who think they want to take that ballot to their normal polling location on Election Day must surrender that ballot and be issued a new one, which results in extra expense and time for the Voter Registrar’s Office and for officers at the polling location.”