Missing ballots alleged

Published 10:28 am Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A write-in candidate for Phenix mayor claims a number people trying to vote last Tuesday for that office and town council’s five seats were temporarily blocked from voting because a polling place ran out of ballots. The candidate also claims there may have been at least one person who never got to vote for those races.

Mary Brewer, whom Lunenburg County Voter Registrar Nan Lambert said garnered a majority of write-in votes, contacted The Charlotte Gazette the day after the polls closed and said the Phenix polling place ran out of ballots for the town’s mayoral and council races three times.

“I was told that around 11 a.m. some people were told there were no more ballots and they would have to come back,” Brewer said.

She said when her husband went to vote around 5:30 p.m., the man behind him was told there were no more town ballots.

“In speaking with the people there, I found out there had been another time between 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. when they also ran out of ballots,” Brewer said. “They claimed they got back with all of them but one, who never voted.”

Brewer claimed around 20 voters were affected.

Lambert said things happened a little differently than Brewer laid out. She did say, however, the polling place never should have run out of ballots. Lambert said the Phenix polling place serves two sets of voters: Those who live in the town, with ballots ranging from the presidential race all the way down to Phenix Town Council; and ballots for those who live outside of town, without those local races.

With only 135 active voters listed in town — and not all of them expected to vote — Lambert said she sent an initial set of 50 ballots to Phenix on election morning.

“Around 2-3 o’clock, they called me saying they were getting low on (local) ballots, so I sent another 41 over,” she said.

Several hours later, just after 6 p.m., Lambert said she received two phone calls from voters who claimed “they” had told them they had run out of ballots.

“I said, ‘What? Who told you that?’ But they didn’t know who the person was,” Lambert said. “I called the polling place and told them not to let anyone leave and get anyone else back. I immediately sent over 35 more ballots. That was at 6:10 (p.m.).”

Despite having sent over what turned out to be a total of 126 ballots with the Phenix races on them, Lambert said the number of people who voted was much lower.

The vote count on the Virginia Department of Elections’ (VDOE) official results page shows a total of 56 votes cast for Phenix mayor, with 10 of those being for write-in candidates. Lambert said there were actually more write-in votes, but a number of them were invalidated for only having an initial and, perhaps, a last name written in. Mayor Franklin Dodd won the election with 46 official votes.

VDOE’s website shows a total of 355 ballots cast in the Phenix town council election. However, voters were allowed to pick up to five candidates out of a field of seven. Candidate Rachel H. Canada earned the most votes with 64.

With the number of actual voters apparently being fewer than the number of ballots available, Lambert said she does not know why anyone at the polling place would have told voters they couldn’t vote. What’s more frustrating, she said, is that the voters who called her after 6 p.m. only referred to “they” when talking about who turned them away.

“I want to be emphatic about this: I don’t understand why this happened and I don’t know who may have told them this,” Lambert said. “I instructed the poll workers that if they ran low on ballots, to call me. I told them, ‘There is no such thing as anyone not getting to vote.’”

As for whether or not there was still someone who didn’t get to vote, Lambert said she’s received no phone calls from anyone saying they didn’t get to vote at all for Phenix mayor or council.

VDOE spokeswoman Dena Potter said there is, as yet, no investigation into the Phenix election.