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Fairfax County officials on Aug. 6 warned against recent “inaccurate and potentially misleading” mailings from a non-profit group.

Local residents around July 5 began receiving unsolicited, pre-filled-in absentee-voting applications from the Center for Voting Information. But the return envelopes were addressed to the wrong registrar’s office, “causing great confusion and concern among voters who have been contacting our office,” Fairfax County General Registrar Gary Scott said in a July 6 statement.

“They are a legitimate group,” Scott told the Sun Gazette. “We’ve dealt with these individuals before. I don’t know whether you’d call it a clerical error or a logistical error, but they included return envelopes addressed to the Fairfax City Registrar’s Office for Fairfax County voters and one addressed to us for all the Fairfax city voters.”

County election officials now will try to obtain the absentee-voting forms mistakenly sent to Fairfax city.

“Once we get them, we’ll still process them,” Scott said. “It’s immaterial that they were mailed to the wrong address, as long as they’re received in our office prior to the deadline, which is many weeks away.”

The group’s mailings resemble official government correspondence, but were not sent by the county’s Office of Elections. Those latter documents would include the county’s seal in the return address and be marked with “Official Election Mail Authorized by the U.S. Postal Service,” officials said.

The biggest concern expressed by the public has been that the mailings might be part of a voter-suppression scam, Scott said, but officials think the situation resulted from an error on the group’s part.

“It’s not a deliberate attempt to mislead people,” he said.

The Center for Voting Information on Aug. 6 issued a statement apologizing for the confusion caused by the mailings, which the group sent to about 500,000 eligible Virginia voters.

“Please rest assured that we are working with local election officials in Virginia to redirect the vote-by-mail applications to the proper locations, and will rectify any errors at our own expense,” the statement read.

County voters already may apply for absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 election, which will feature local bond referendums, congressional races and, of course, the U.S. presidential slugfest between incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

County officials are gearing up for a huge surge in absentee voting for the election, given the current pandemic. The law allows absentee-voting applications to be submitted 12 months in advance of the election, Scott said.

The registrar’s office recently has been receiving 1,000 to 1,200 such applications per day, so the recent mailings will not have much impact, he said.

“The bigger part of the impact is that many of these people have already applied for an absentee ballot,” Scott said. “It takes us just as much time to go through and identify someone who’s already applied for a ballot and process them . . .  It’s going to be adding a level of complexity to our operations.”

Election employees must remove duplicate applications, which is a time-consuming operation, Scott said. Officials estimate about 5 percent of the applications will be duplicates, he added.

Fairfax County is not adequately staffed yet to handle the November election, but will not need those extra employees until October, when early ballots returned by voters need to be processed, Scott said. The county has budgeted sufficient money for the fall election operations, he said.

County officials anticipate more than 50 percent of voters will cast ballots early or by mail for the November election, Scott said. Because officials anticipate a 90-percent turnout for this election, that likely will equate to more than 300,000 early or absentee ballots, he said.

Votes received by Election Day will be tabulated that evening, but because of a law change, the county will continue accepting ballots postmarked on or before Election Day through noon on Friday, Nov. 6. A final absentee-vote report may not be available until Nov. 9, Scott said. Officials predict between 10,000 and 15,000 votes could be received after Election Day.

Virginia law lets the county process absentee votes in advance of the election, provided officials do not tabulate the results until afterward. The county already had one high-speed ballot scanner and purchased another to handle this year’s extra-high load, so timely tabulations should not be a problem, Scott said.

Because Virginia on July 1 became a “no-excuse” early-voting state, Fairfax County set up 14 satellite-voting locations, up from nine during the last presidential election.

“We’ve added to our capability and we’re expecting a much higher usage” of satellite-voting facilities, he said.

Officials expect to receive two or three votes by mail for every one cast at a satellite location, a reverse situation from previous elections, Scott said.

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