A Prince William County judge on Wednesday dismissed lawsuits two local Republican election integrity activists brought against Eric Olsen, the county’s director of elections, and the county Electoral Board. The suits urged the court to undo the certification of the county’s Nov. 8 election results, direct that hand recounts be conducted in certain precincts and order that all equipment used in the election be secured and analyzed by a third-party to ensure “full transparency.”
After a near two-and-a-half-hour hearing during which plaintiffs John Mills, of Woodbridge, and Elizabeth Block, of Manassas, provided their own sworn testimony and Mills called Olsen to the stand, Judge Carroll A. Weimer, Jr. ruled that the lawsuits were without merit and dismissed them “with prejudice,” meaning they can’t be refiled.
“The evidence that I’ve heard is that there were ‘hiccups’ [on Election Day] that were resolved to [the county Electoral Board’s] satisfaction and they’ve certified the election,” Weimer said.
Finding that Olsen’s actions in administering the election complied with all Virginia election laws, Weimer told the petitioners that it was “not with the province of the court” to order any type of investigation into the election.
“At some point we need to trust that the people we put in place to do these things are doing them,” Weimer said at the close of the hearing. Addressing the petitioners, he added: “I hope you feel as if you’ve gotten your day in court.”
Mills and Block had filed separate petitions with the court on Nov. 15 -- the same day the Electoral Board certified the election -- seeking “mandamus” relief, namely a court order directing a government official to perform their official duties.
Among other claimed “irregularities,” both petitioners alleged that on Election Day, at precinct 612, located at John Jenkins Elementary, election precinct Chief Brett Alan Gloss reported to the county election office that the scanner tabulated 531 ballots but that only 504 paper ballots were found in the ballot box under the scanner at the end of the day.
That evening, on their own volition, election officers on site performed a hand recount of the paper ballots and were unable to account for the alleged discrepancy. In an email to the county elections office, Gloss requested a “deep dive” into the issue.
The Electoral Board reviewed the issue and found no errors. A review team performed a hand recount of the paper ballots delivered from precinct 612 and counted 531 ballots, which matched the machine tally tape of 531 and the scanner’s digital backup image count of 531.
The review of precinct 612’s ballots was performed with the full Electoral Board present, a bipartisan team of election officers and observers, including the Prince William Republican Committee chairman.
Much was made of the situation on social media, prompting a Twitter thread from the county office of elections, @PWCVotes, posted on Nov. 15 noting that there were “no issues at this precinct” in an attempt to tamp down rumored misinformation and conspiracy theories stemming from Gloss’s allegations about precinct 612.
Neither Block nor Mills challenged the resolution of precinct 612 at the hearing.
Upon receiving the petitions, Weimer issued a letter to all parties consolidating the petitions due to their similar facts and “concerning” allegations that “various electronic and mechanical means of tabulating the ballots did not match other physical re-counting and verification methods.”
Due to the “sensitive nature” and “delicate timing” of the case, Weimer said that the matter would “take precedence” on the court’s docket and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, Nov. 30.
All three members of the Electoral Board, Chair London Steverson, Vice Chair Pamela R. Walker, and Secretary Keith Scarborough were present at the hearing but did not provide testimony.
Neither Mills nor Block were represented by an attorney, so Weimer gave each of them wide latitude in making their arguments to the court, explained court procedures and defined legal terms for their benefit. “I hope when all of this is over that you both understand the amount of leeway I gave you,” Weimer said.
At the hearing, Weimer allowed Block and Mills to take the stand and present their own evidence to try to substantiate their claims that the election was ridden with irregularities that were not adequately investigated.
Block, who is listed online as the chair of the “Prince William County Election Integrity Working Group” in a now dead link on the Prince William County Republican Committee website, took the stand first.
She said she has been involved in “election integrity” issues since the 2020 presidential election and personally trained all of the Republican poll watchers observing during both early voting and on Election Day.
She admitted that she did not personally observe any election irregularities at a precinct on Election Day because she was not at an election site. Instead, she said she served as a resource for the deployed Republican poll watchers who she said covered more than 55% of the county’s 103 precincts.
Without any personal observations to testify to, Block attempted to share “after action review notes” that she prepared from interviews with certain poll watchers, but Weimer disallowed it as “hearsay.”
Block disagreed with Weimer’s ruling and protested: “I wonder why first-hand knowledge is required when I have evidence from trained observers?”
Block changed course and requested that the court order a “technical review” of the voting equipment because she said it was not secure.
“Voter rolls were flying through the air” on Election Day, she said, referring to the use of new wireless electronic pollbook tablets, a Merlin router and an Amazon web server, Block testified.
While admitting that she didn’t know if either Olsen or the Electoral Board engaged in any testing or certifications of the election equipment before the election, Block said that “no one employed at the General Registrar’s office is capable of such a technical review.”
When Mills, who is listed as president of the “National Election Integrity Association” according to opencorporates.com, took the stand, Weimer immediately informed him that pursuant to Virginia law, he did not have standing to request a recount because he is not a candidate who didn’t prevail in the election.
Mills testified that he was appointed as a new assistant chief at precinct 511, located at Westridge Elementary School, after the local Republican party prevailed in its lawsuit to force Olsen to appoint certain Republican election chiefs and assistant chiefs just prior to the election to ensure partisan parity among head voting precinct officials.
Mills said he has an extensive cyber security background and has had increased concerns about the security of the election equipment since his election official training, when he said he was “shushed” and told not to ask questions.
Mills said he and other election officers had trouble “waking up” the electronic pollbooks at Precinct 511 on Election Day. He said they had to use the backup paper pollbooks to check in voters for the first 15 or 20 minutes of voting.
Mills presented two pictures he took of the screen on the electronic pollbook that he said “deviated” from the startup process depicted in the county elections training manual.
He said he believed the “USB keys,” or thumb-drive like devices, used in the electronic poll books presented “a very high risk for breach.”
Mills said that he has been in contact with the office of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) and met with four or five of his staff members earlier this year about his concerns.
Mills admitted that the vote total at 511 where he worked was only off by one vote, which he characterized as an “outlier” and said that he found the result satisfactory.
Mills then called Olsen to the stand and questioned him for about 15 minutes. At the outset, Weimer cautioned him to resist going on a fishing expedition: “What is important for you as a citizen to understand is not necessarily relevant to what the trier of fact needs to know to make a decision in this case.”
Olsen testified that his office completed “logic and accuracy” testing of all election equipment on Nov. 6, just prior to Election Day and it was certified by the state.
“Pollbooks only communicate with other pollbooks,” Olsen said, explaining that voter information is encrypted for security.
Olsen said that about five of the county’s 103 voting precincts experienced the electronic pollbook issue and it was resolved within five to 15 minutes by just taking out the USB key and reinserting it. He said that election officers used the paper pollbook backup at that time.
“The contingency plan worked,” Olsen said. “Thankfully we didn’t have an issue with voting.”
Olsen said that other jurisdictions in Virginia using the same type of pollbooks experienced the same issue and that “the vendor was following up.”
Shortly after Olsen’s testimony, Weimer dismissed the case saying, “What you’re asking for is not available to you by writ of mandamus. … It’s not the court’s position to order something to be done if the way it’s done is already provided for in the Virginia code.”
Weimer said he thought it was important to hold a full hearing on the matter so Mills and Block could “air their evidence.”
“The government would never get anything done if the courts ordered investigations into everything,” Weimer said. To which Block stood up and complained to Weimer that she believed that someone was logged in as an administrator in an electronic pollbook on Election Day and she didn’t know who.
But her protestations fell on deaf ears because Weimer had already dismissed the case.
Weimer then advised her to just ask Olsen.
“A lot of things can be resolved simply with people talking to one another,” Weimer said. “People must understand what the court system does. There are ways of resolving issues long before you get to court.”
In an interview with the Prince William Times after the hearing, Olsen said he was happy with the way the case turned out because “in the course of it we proved that the system works.”
“We have backup processes for when things don’t go as we planned. With hundreds of pieces of equipment, a thousand people out there, they don’t always go exactly as planned.” Olsen said. “We build in contingencies, and we build in back-up plans and that’s what was executed on Election Day and that’s why we know that the results were fair and accurate overall.”
Olsen also said he was in contact with both the Virginia Department of Elections as well as Miyares’ office throughout the election process.
“The state approved our certification already. The attorney general’s office didn’t have anything further to say,” Olsen said.
Asked for comment on the lawsuits, Scarborough said that “it’s disturbing” that everything relating to the election process is “turning into a court action.”
Mills was one of the people the Prince William Republican Committee demanded be placed as an election officer at a certain precinct, said Scarborough, who is one of two Democrats on the local Electoral Board.
“So he was serving as an election officer paid by the county, and yet he’s basically there as a poll watcher for the Republican committee. Well, I think that’s highly inappropriate,” Scarborough said.
“The fact that these suits were both dismissed is an indication of the fact that the process worked,” Scarborough said. “I am really concerned that we are headed down this road of ‘if we don’t win the election, we’ll go to court.’”
Walker, the Electoral Board’s other Democrat, said that the dismissal “shows that there are checks and balances in the system.” She explained that once voters cast their votes, the Electoral Board engages in a series of procedures to ensure that the election results are a true and accurate accounting of all votes cast in the election.
“As [Block] was filing her suit, we were going through [the canvass process] and the chair of the Republican party was there. Both sides had people attending watching this whole election process.” Walker said, adding: “It shows the integrity of our system, and that fair and transparent elections are taking place in Prince William County.”
Steverson, the chair of the Electoral Board and its only Republican, took a slightly different tone and called the lawsuits a “sneak attack” and said he “resented” them.
“I’m happy with the lawsuits because they were dismissed. They shouldn’t have brought them in the first place,” Steverson said. “My responsibility is to deliver a full and fair election and we did that.”
The Prince William County Electoral Board will switch to two Republican members and one Democrat next year, when one of the Democrats will step down to allow a Republican to be appointed to the panel. According to Virginia law, the partisan lean of local electoral boards must match that of the Virginia governor.
Reach Cher Muzyk at email@example.com
Thank you for this report. You showed the election system really works.
You also showed the court can decided the validity of any evidence of election fraud. This complaint was not election integrity but was attempted Republican voter fraud. Lying about voter fraud is voter fraud.
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