A similar problem with printing labels occurred with a smaller number of voters in Henrico County and the city of Richmond, officials there said.
The Fairfax and Henrico officials blamed the errors on the record demand for absentee ballots and early voting in an election year when concerns about the coronavirus have people worried about going to crowded polling stations to vote in person.
A Richmond official did not immediately return a call for comment Friday.
“We’ve just never seen this volume before,” said Mark Coakley, the general registrar in Henrico County.
Coakley said the problem in his county stemmed from a bad county printer that was low on toner. His office has stopped using that machine and is now using a more reliable copy machine that also prints documents.
In Fairfax, a county printer misaligned the address on some of the labels, said Gary Scott, the general registrar.
Because the printer’s software did not allow individual labels to be printed, county workers had to reproduce a new batch of 70 labels each time the error occurred. In some instances, they mistakenly reapplied the entire batch to fresh ballots, resulting in the duplicates, Scott said.
But election officials said safeguards are in place to ensure that only one ballot is counted per voter.
Each ballot cast by a Virginia voter is recorded into a state verification system, election officials said. If someone were to try to vote more than once with the same identity, the system would reject the extra ballot as invalid.
The state’s Republican Party said that the duplicate absentee ballots illustrate the potential for election fraud introduced by measures signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) earlier this year to make mail balloting easier. President Trump has made repeated allegations, without proof, that mail-in voting is designed to help Democrats rig the election.
“Our local election officials were forced to deal with setting up drop boxes for no reason other than to facilitate ballot harvesting by Democrats; making arrangements for prepaid postage on all envelopes; and setting up a process for voters to cure errors in their absentee ballots,” the party said in a statement. “With all that additional work, it’s no wonder mistakes were made.”
State party chairman Rich Anderson called on the Northam administration to tighten its safeguards against duplicate ballots.
But Democrats said the protections against duplicate voting are already strong.
“Virginians should be encouraged by this year’s record-breaking turnout with early in-person voting,” Andrew Whitley, the state Democratic Party’s executive director, said in a statement.
Although every election has glitches, Coakley said, the increased demand in absentee ballots this year has made clerical errors more likely.
While Henrico normally processes about 17,000 ballots during a presidential election, the county has already mailed out 39,000 absentee ballots and has had 8,000 voters come in for early voting, Coakley said.
“It was my error, where I’m trying to save on toner money and print each label faster,” he said of the duplicate ballots. “We’ve just got to take our time and do it right.”