As Virginia prepares for the November midterm elections, the State Board of Elections approved a number of policy changes aimed at clarifying the voting process and making ballots easier to understand. On March 23, the board met for the first time since the Northam administration was sworn in. The panel unanimously voted to roll out new ballot standards for the Nov. 6 general election. The goal of the standards is clarification – including allowing candidates to use nicknames, more readable fonts and user-friendly instructions on the ballots. Each ballot will include instructions on how to vote. It will also state, “If you want to change a vote or if you have made a mistake, ask an election worker for another ballot. If you make marks on the ballot besides filling in the oval, your votes may not be counted.”
Chris Piper, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, said the process for revising the ballot standards began before last November’s election, when one voter in Newport News improperly marked their ballot. This led to a tie in the 94th House District race between Democrat Shelly Simonds and Republican David Yancey.
During a special meeting of the State Board of Elections in early January, the names of both candidates were placed in a bowl and one was drawn; Yancey was declared the winner. “The ballot standards were something that was targeted as one of the first things that needed to be looked at,” Piper said.
He said the changes are “really designed to make the ballot standards document more user-friendly and easier to understand for the localities and the vendors who design ballots. It clarifies some things that had come up over the years – it wasn’t in response to anything that happened in November, but certainly lessons learned went into the development.”