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Learning curve likely as new voting method arrives in county

Arlington election officials are seeing uptick in spoiled ballots in Democratic primary

Let’s say you have messed – yes, that’s a good PG-rated word – up your ballot in the June 20 primary, perhaps owing to the stress of trying to get the new ranked-choice-voting process correct.

What happens then?

It depends, in large part, whether you are voting in person (whether early or on the 20th) or by mail.

Should someone make an error while voting in person, the scanning machine is designed to reject the ballot, and the voter will be given a new one to cast before leaving the precinct.

(According to county elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer, the introduction of ranked-choice-voting into the process this spring election season may be causing an additional level of trepidation among the electorate. “We are seeing a slightly higher level of spoiled ballots,” she noted at a recent event, later confirming that the trend has continued.)

For those ballots that are mailed in, it’s not quite as simple – and votes may or may not be counted.

Mail-in ballots that the scanner kicks out for irregularities are held until 3 p.m. on the day of the election. They are then tallied by a team of election officers for hand-tabulation.

State law handles how to proceed: “If the election officers believe they can determine voter intent, the ballot shall be counted as such,” Reinemeyer said.

One thing election officials can’t do is contact the person who submitted the faulty mail-in ballot, since voter information has been separated from the ballot itself by that point in the process.

“We have no way of identifying the voter,” Reinemeyer said. The separation of identifying information from the ballot itself is necessary to maintain a voter’s right to privacy.

Processing of mail-in ballots has yet to begin (it starts seven days prior to the election date), so there is no way yet to know how many spoiled ballots there will be. But for those voting in-person early, the most common error in the ranked-choice process has been marking more than one candidate in the first column, election officials said.

Not only have election officials been out in the community attempting to explain the process so voters will avoid pitfalls; the six candidates vying for two County Board seats also have been spreading the word to their supporters.

While the County Board race will be held as a ranked-choice election, with voters allowed to rank their top three candidates for the two open seats, all other races on the Arlington ballot this spring will be the traditional winner-take-all type.