‘That’s not right’: Mislabeled vote-by-mail registration forms delivered to Roanoke Valley

'Why would I ever send anything to Roanoke County? I live in Roanoke City'

ROANOKE, Va. – A nonprofit group’s effort to register Roanoke absentee voters by mail backfired because of a massive mix-up.

The Center for Voter Information sent vote-by-mail forms to every registered voter in Virginia. However, the return envelopes for Roanoke City voters were marked for Roanoke County, and vice versa.

“When our mailing was sent to the printhouse, they made an error and inversed the city and county return envelopes in Virginia,” said Tom Lopach of the Center for Voter Information.

Lopach said the error affected more than 500,000 applications across the state. Lopach said the printing error transposed the cities and counties of Roanoke, Richmond, Fairfax, and Franklin on the return envelopes.

“This is an election where there is too much misinformation and confusion, and we don’t want to add to that,” Lopach said. “We regret the confusion we have caused through this mailing and we are doing everything we can to help address this.”

In a follow-up statement, the organization’s printing company said the error happened because it “incorrectly aligned a spreadsheet that matched the voter with their local election office.”

“We are keenly aware of the seriousness of this mistake,” said Jonathan Shapiro of the Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Company. “Worse, this error created confusion for voters who are trying to exercise their right to vote from home, safely and conveniently. We violated the trust that CVI places in us as their print vendors.”

The inaccurate applications stymied voters such as Breanne Marshall-Donley, who says she had already registered to vote by mail in Roanoke City.

“I thought, ‘This is not adding up. What is going on here?‘” Marshall-Donley said. “Why would I ever send anything to Roanoke County? I live in Roanoke City. That’s not right.”

It also caught Roanoke City Registrar Andrew Cochran by surprise. He said the Center for Voter Information did not contact his office before sending out the forms.

“It’s very upsetting. I wish they had checked in with us to confirm the accuracy of the information they sent voters,” Cochran said. “We have seen different types of errors, but this was probably the most widespread.”

Cochran said there is nothing wrong with the actual vote-by-mail applications, and registrars will ensure forms sent to the wrong municipality will end up in the right place.

“The absentee forms themselves are actually valid and can be used,” Cochran said. “What was unfortunate were the return envelopes.”

Lopach said the Center for Voter Information will pay any fees needed to get the forms to the right municipality.

If you want to register to vote by mail, you can visit your local voter registration office or register at the Virginia Department of Elections website.