Lynchburg voters looking to cast their ballots in the special election for the 22nd Senate District today are encountering an unusual snag in the democratic process – voting precincts out of ballots.
For voter Leighton Dodd, who said he planned to vote for Democrat Ryant Washington, he told The News & Advance that he tried to vote at 11:30 a.m. at Bedford Hills School precinct, but there were no ballots. When he came back after lunch, around 1 p.m. the precinct had run out again.
“To not have enough ballots is ridiculous,” Dodd said as he sat in a line of 30 voters who were waiting for more ballots to be delivered so that they could cast their votes in the special election.
Dodd expressed concern that the ballot snafu could affect the election.
“That’s quite absurd,” reacted voter Bruce Blankinship when he heard the Bedford Hills precinct was out of ballots, as he headed out on his lunch break to vote for Republican Mark Peake.
Blankinship also worried over how the issues with the special election could affect the end result.
Blankinship left the precinct without voting, but said he would return to cast his ballot after work.
At nearly 2 p.m. more than 400 voters had been through the Bedford Hills precinct, according to election official Mariana Boska. The precinct had at least three rounds of ballots delivered.
However, Aaron Evans, who was standing outside Bedford Hills to promote the Republican ballot, said that around 50 people had left without voting since the precinct did not have ballots available.
A similar issue was observed Tuesday afternoon at the First Presbyterian Church polling site where bal-lots ran out.
“A whole lot more people [voted] than anticipated,” said the precinct’s Election Chief Natalie Robinson.
As of 1 p.m., she estimated that 400 voters had cast their ballots at First Presbyterian Church.
Candidate Mark Peake said he was both frustrated and disappointed with the ballot blunder.
“We’ve had people leave Bedford Hills, we’ve had people leave here,” Peake said as he campaigned outside of First Presbyterian Church around 1 p.m. “It’s frustrating to see people leave.”
Tripp Duerson, who voted for Peake said the voting process had been smooth when he voted at First Presbyterian Church shortly after 1 p.m. and he was not concerned with a hand count of ballots.
Although some Lynchburg city precincts ran out of paper ballots by 11 a.m. Tuesday, no valid city voter has been turned away from the special election for the 22nd Senate District, according to Registrar Karen Patterson.
Patterson said she learned some precincts were running out of pre-printed ballots between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Tuesday, but that election officials were quickly directed to using electronic handicap accessible machines. With these machines, voters push a button to pick their candidate and the machine prints out a paper copy, she said. The city should have plenty of the blank paper that feeds this machine, she said, to last through the day.
“Things are going along fine. Lynchburg has at no point been without ballots,” Patterson said at about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday. “… Everyone is able to vote, and everything is okay.”
The registrar’s office also dispatched photocopied emergency ballots. If used, these ballots must be hand-counted. Polls close at 7 p.m.
“I think we might have some hand-counted, but we’re not expecting an over-abundance,” Patterson said.
The registrar’s office printed 1,350 ballots, she said. Her office and the electoral board used previous voter turnout history to estimate how many ballots they would need.
The special election will determine whether Lynchburg Republican Mark Peake, Democrat Ryant Washington or Independent Joe Hines will fill the seat vacated by Rep. Tom Garrett, R-5th. The winner is scheduled to be sworn into the office Wednesday when the 2017 General Assembly convenes.
At just after 9 a.m., election workers at the First Presbyterian Church precinct had already seen a higher number of voters than were expected to visit all day, precinct workers said. The precinct had been allocated 100 ballots originally, but asked for and received additional ballots. As of 9:20 a.m., 104 people had cast ballots there.
Amherst and Appomattox county registrars are not concerned about any of their precincts running out of ballots.
"We just err on the side of a little higher" than we need, Appomattox County Registrar Sabrina Smith said Tuesday afternoon.