A small number of voting irregularities -- mostly involving people mailing in ballots after voting early in-person -- likely prompted a warning Friday from Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Amy Ashworth that any attempt at voter fraud or intimidation at local polling places will be prosecuted.
Ashworth’s office issued a statement at 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, saying the office “has become aware of allegations that people are attempting to ‘test the system’ by voting twice.”
“The public deserves to know that regardless of what is said or inferred by any official, elected or otherwise, it remains illegal to vote twice in the same election in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Ashworth’s statement said.
The statement further said her office stands ready to prosecute incidents of “election Interference, intimidation, and harassment” that occur within Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park, according to state law.
The Prince William County Office of Elections has had “a handful” of incidents in which mail-in ballots were received from voters who already voted in person, which has raised some concern of possible attempted voter fraud, Office of Elections spokesman Matt Wilson said Friday.
There is a system in place to catch such ballots before they are processed and counted. Election officials check each mailed-in ballot against the state Department of Elections database to ensure the voter has not already cast a ballot in person. If the database indicates the voter cast an in-person ballot, the mailed ballot is set aside and not counted, Wilson said.
What’s more, election officials also check the state database to determine if people who show up to vote have requested a mailed absentee ballot. If they have, they must fill out a gold-colored form indicating they are forfeiting their mail-in ballot to vote in person.
If mailed-in ballots are received by such voters, their ballots and associated gold forms are then handed over to the local police department in case an investigation is warranted, Wilson said.
So far, there have been fewer than 10 such incidents, but election officials report anything deemed out of the ordinary, Wilson said.
“We’ve got cases of people who, on some level, it looks like they are trying to vote twice,” Wilson said. “But are these just accidents, and people don’t know what they’re doing? That we don’t know.”
The Office of Elections recently handed over the small number of mailed-in ballots set aside under such circumstances to Prince William County police, which likely prompted the statement from Ashworth’s office, Wilson said.
Local polling places have so far not had any incidents of protests or voter harrassment, but occasionally voters lodge complaints about party volunteers handing out campaign literature in the parking lots, Wilson said.
Campaign volunteers are required by state law to stay a certain distance away from the polling place entrances, which is enforced at each polling place.
Early voting has been underway across Virginia since Friday, Sept. 18, with reports of record-breaking early voting turnout. Unlike previous years, any registered voter can cast an early ballot without needing to note an “excuse” for doing so.
As of Friday morning, more than 77,200 early and mailed-in ballots had been cast in Prince William County’s three early voting locations. That’s more than one-third of the 196,281 ballots cast locally in the 2016 presidential election, Wilson said.
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