The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Three Republicans running for Virginia governor wary of vote-counting software

From left to right, Glenn Youngkin, Amanda Chase and Kirk Cox.
From left to right, Glenn Youngkin, Amanda Chase and Kirk Cox. (Glenn Youngkin, Amanda Chase, Kirk Cox. (Heather Rousseau for The Post, Ryan M. Kelly/AP, Steve Helber/AP))
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RICHMOND — Three Republicans running for Virginia governor are raising alarms about a ballot-counting system being pitched to the state party, saying the technology cannot be trusted to tabulate votes at the party's May 8 nominating convention.

State Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield), Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) and businessman Glenn Youngkin wrote a letter to state GOP Chairman Rich Anderson on Wednesday warning the party against hiring a certain elections software vendor under consideration.

“The current method for counting, tabulating, and calculating the votes being recommended by the Rules Committee utilizes untested and unproven software that creates uncertainty, lacks openness and transparency, and is inconsistent with our calls as a party for safe and secure elections,” they wrote. Anderson did not immediately respond to the candidates or to a message from The Washington Post seeking comment.

The letter once again lays bare the deep suspicions that Virginia Republicans have about election integrity — even for a contest run entirely by their own party.

Convention ballots are typically counted by hand, but that process might be more arduous this year, when more voters are expected to participate and the party will use a complicated system of ranked-choice voting.

The state GOP’s governing body was bitterly deadlocked for months over whether to pick the party’s nominee at a convention or in a primary. Supporters of a primary warned that a convention could be rigged to favor one candidate or another. The pro-convention side ultimately won out but had to settle for an “unassembled” format, with dozens of polling places to conform to the state’s coronavirus restrictions.

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Now Chase, Cox and Youngkin say they’re worried they can’t trust how the convention ballots will be tallied. The three candidates do not suggest in their letter that the method would favor any particular candidate, but in a speech Wednesday night, Chase said one Republican was pushing for the software system: businessman Pete Snyder.

“They’re trying to put it in some spreadsheet and have computers to count it, and I’m saying no,” Chase said at a campaign stop. “Pete Snyder’s campaign wants the electronic voting [tabulation].”

Snyder campaign spokesman Nathan Brand declined to say whether Snyder supports the software system from Blue Ridge Software Consulting. But Brand issued a written statement saying that Snyder does not oppose any of the criteria that Chase, Cox and Youngkin demand in their letter, such as transparency.

“We love this!” Brand said in the statement. “As we have from the beginning, we support a verifiable, independent, and accurate count that gives Republicans confidence in this process and the results. We have always advocated for the measures outlined in the letter.”

Three other candidates vying for the GOP nomination — retired Army Col. Sergio de la Peña, former think tank executive Peter Doran and former Roanoke sheriff Octavia Johnson — have not weighed in on the software issue.

Counting convention votes has never been simple, given the state GOP’s complex weighted-vote system, which gives ballots from redder parts of the state more heft than those from bluer areas.

The task will be especially daunting this year because the party will use a complicated ranked-choice voting system. Candidates need a majority, not a mere plurality, to win, so usually there are multiple rounds of voting before someone garners more than 50 percent. In a nod to pandemic safety, voters will cast only one ballot, ranking candidates in order of preference, so they will not have to stick around all day for multiple rounds of voting.

Adding to the challenge is the expected surge in voters participating in a contest that, with seven candidates, is considered wide open. The multiple locations also could drive up those numbers, since voters will not have to travel so far to take part.

As many as 40,000 people are expected to file to be delegates. Even if only half turn up on May 8, that would exceed the 12,000 who participated in the last GOP gubernatorial convention.

Walter and Bonnie Burkhardt of Blue Ridge Software Consulting have presented the state GOP’s governing body with a software system that they say can handle complex calculations and a large number of ballots.

The Burkhardts did not respond to email and phone messages from The Post seeking comment.

The Burkhardts made multiple attempts to demonstrate their tabulation method to the Rules Committee for the GOP’s governing body, the State Central Committee, with a few glitches, according to records of several meetings shared with The Post. On April 11, the Rules Committee voted against the Burkhardts’ system in favor of counting the ballots by hand, as the party has done in the past.

But the Rules Committee reconsidered its vote three days later and, with a few votes flipped, the Burkhardts’ system prevailed. With that vote, the committee recommended the system to the full State Central Committee, which will consider the matter at a meeting Thursday.

Chase, Cox and Youngkin urged the party to take several measures to ensure integrity, including using ballot scanners or a “carefully organized and consistently monitored hand count.”

They encouraged the party to hire a vendor with expertise in ranked-choice voting that incorporates county-based weighting. And they urged that ballots be counted at polling places and that any transported elsewhere for counting “be sealed, documented, and witnessed by observers from each campaign prior to transport and upon arrival at the counting location.”

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