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VERIFY: 500,000 Virginians received vote-by-mail applications with wrong return address from nonprofit

The Verify team's inbox was flooded with emails relating to a vote-by-mail application sent to Fairfax homes from a nonprofit, Center For Voter Information.

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — Question:

Are the vote-by-mail applications sent by the Center For Voter Information legitimate? 

Answer: 

The applications themselves are legitimate, according to both Fairfax County and Fairfax City. However, the included return envelope directed residents to an incorrect mailing address. Fairfax County residents were directed to Fairfax City, and vice versa. The mailings were not associated with either government, but rather came from a nonprofit. The CEO for the nonprofit told the Verify team that this was caused by a printing error.

Sources:

Fairfax City Statement

Fairfax County Statement

Virginia Department of Elections Statement

Center For Voter Information Statement

Tom Lopach, CEO of Center For Voter Information

Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Company

Process:

The Verify team recently received multiple inquiries regarding vote-by-mail applications received in Fairfax City and Fairfax County. The mailers were sent by the Center For Voter Information, which acknowledged the error in a statement on their website. 

"We are aware that some of the mailers may have directed the return envelopes to the wrong election offices," the statement read. 

According to the Center For Voter Information, these faulty mailers were sent to half-a-million voters in Virginia in the following locations: Fairfax City, Fairfax County, Franklin City, Franklin County, Richmond City, Richmond County, Roanoke City, and Roanoke County. 

The organization, which describes itself as non-partisan and nonprofit, credited the incorrect mailers to a printing error made by Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Company, which prepared the envelopes. The printing company acknowledged the mistake in a statement.

"In a recent mailing for CVI in Virginia we made a major error in our printing," the statement read. "We sent voters in eight Virginia jurisdictions a vote-by-mail application with a reply envelope that was addressed to the wrong jurisdiction. This mistake occurred because we incorrectly aligned a spreadsheet that matched the voter with their local election office."

Tom Lopach, the CEO for the Center For Voter Information, spoke with the Verify team on Friday, expressing regret for the mistake. 

"Nobody wants to create confusion or cause problems during this election cycle," he said. "Certainly we don't."

The organization said that it would work with local election officials in the commonwealth to re-direct the vote-by-mail applications to the proper locations, and said that the nonprofit would pay to do so. The Virginia Department of Education confirmed in a statement that these applications would be directed to the correct office. 

Fairfax County and Fairfax City were quick to warn voters about the incorrect mailers. 

"This mailing is causing great confusion and concern among voters who have been contacting our office," Fairfax County General Registrar Gary Scott said in a statement. "While the mailing may appear to be from an official government agency, the Fairfax County Office of Elections did not send it."

The county statement indicated that voters can also apply online to absentee vote by mail, which they call the "most secure method to apply rather than responding to unsolicited applications."

Fairfax City also commented on the mailer on their website, writing that this was from an "independent organization unaffiliated with the city."

"The form provided is a valid form to use to request a by-mail ballot in Virginia," read a statement on the city website. "But we're aware that the return mail information incorrectly directs City voters to mail the application to the Fairfax County Office of Elections."

Fairfax City voters can apply for a ballot online here

Fairfax also offered this message to those at home: 

"Rest assured that any applications that arrive in the wrong locality's office will be forwarded to the correct office for processing."

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