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Stafford County Circuit Court Declines Relief to Voters Unable to Certify Provisional Ballots

11/14/17

Read a PDF of our statement here

Stafford County Circuit Court Declines Relief to Voters Unable to Certify Provisional Ballots

Today, the Stafford County Circuit Court has declined to provide relief to voters who feared the Stafford County Electoral Board’s (SCEB) conflicting and misleading instructions would ultimately prevent their provisional ballots for last Tuesday’s election from being counted. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), with co-counsel Gerlach Law Firm, PLC, filed a lawsuit yesterday in Stafford, Virginia, seeking emergency relief for several voters in Stafford County.

The court dismissed the lawsuit on grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing for their complaint because they were, in fact, able to certify their provisional ballots at a SCEB hearing on Monday, although it is believed that other voters were still unable to ensure their votes were counted due to the confusion caused by conflicting and misleading instructions. There have been a number of concerns associated with the handling of this election in Stafford County. Just today, the Board voted not to count 55 absentee ballots which may have been returned in a timely manner to the Registrar.

“While we’re happy that our plaintiffs were able to have their voices heard through the electoral process, others do not have that same guarantee,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, LDF President and Director-Counsel. “Although we are pleased by reports that the SCEB ultimately counted 40 of the 50 provisional ballots that were cast, the effective denial of the franchise to even one voter seriously undermines our fundamental democratic values.  We hope that Stafford County commits itself in the future to making sure that all residents are given clear and consistent information about their voting rights and obligations, and that they create procedures where voters can cast a ballot with confidence that it will count.”

On Election Day, poll workers in Stafford County gave notices to voters containing contradictory information about how and when they could return to provide the additional information necessary to have their provisional ballot count. One notice stated that voters could provide additional information to finalize their ballots until noon on Friday, November 10; however, the office was closed on that day due to Veterans Day. Voters also received a second notice that stated that the only way to finalize the provisional ballot was to appear on Monday, November 13, before a convening of the Stafford County Electoral Board. Despite the confusion caused by the conflicting and misleading instructions, the registrar’s office was largely offline and unavailable following Election Day as people were searching for answers regarding their ballots.

Yesterday, the SCEB held the hearing promoted in the second notice, in which voters could certify their provisional ballot. Some voters, including the plaintiffs, were able to have their provisional votes finalized at this meeting. Unfortunately, other voters will not have the same chance to certify their votes because of the county’s failure to provide proper notice. 

As Ifill told the judge in court, “I’m gratified that our clients were able to navigate the process and make their way to the hearing yesterday. But we know that there are others who have been unable to do so.” LDF is currently exploring other legal options. 

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Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.