The following is a statement from Loudoun County Registrar Judy Brown regarding the use of a third-party vendor for mail ballots.
The Loudoun County Office of Elections and Voter Registration will use a third-party vendor for the printing, assembling, and mailing of absentee ballots for the upcoming November 2022 general election. My office has conducted a thorough review of the options and of the proposed vendor to inform this decision. It is my professional judgment that using a third-party vendor for this complicated and multi-layered task will ensure the fair and secure administration of absentee voting in Loudoun County. In addition, streamlining the process of printing, assembling, and mailing absentee ballots will bring increased efficiencies and cost-savings to our operations.
Below are some of the factors that influenced my decision, which include new election laws and requirements in the Commonwealth of Virginia as well as the availability of an enhanced ballot tracking system.
Election Law Changes
Under a new Virginia law adopted in 2021, (Section 24.2-706 of the Code of Virginia), general registrars in Virginia may contract with a third-party vendor for the printing, assembly and mailing of absentee ballots to registered voters who request them. This change to code was enacted by the General Assembly on a bi-partisan basis and signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.
In 2022, the Virginia General Assembly adopted new legislation, effective July 1, 2022, which requires us to report absentee ballots at the precinct level. Previously, absentee ballots were reported all together in one county-level tally. Because of this change, we will be required to dramatically increase the number of ballot styles. For example, the maximum number of ballot styles we have printed in the past was 32; with the new law, the number may be as high as 400 in 2022.
The use of a third-party vendor for the printing and mailing of ballots will result in an increase in efficiency and accuracy in this process. Due to the increase in the number of ballots, the printing and mailing of ballots by a third-party vendor will ensure greater accuracy than when the process was handled manually by my staff because the vendor has computerized systems that are designed for exactly this purpose. Only one ballot will be printed for each voter as requested by the Loudoun County Office of Elections and Voter Registration. The automated process will save at least 8 cents per absentee voter through saved staff time and local resources. The use of the third-party vendor for this purpose also allows local elections workers to focus on other tasks that support the administration of fair and accurate elections. In the most recent election, for example, my staff facilitated the mailing of more than 22,000 ballots, which was a time-consuming and cumbersome process. We estimate mailing 30,000 to 40,000 ballots for the November 2022 election. I am confident that utilizing the vendor’s technology to conduct this activity in accordance with Virginia law will bring greater efficiencies and accuracy to the absentee voting process.
Printing and Counting of Absentee Ballots
Only staff in the Office of Elections can approve a mail ballot request. Staff verifies voter eligibility and then approves the request, triggering the process for mailing the ballot once available. The third-party vendor will not print and mail ballots unless we request that they do so for an eligible registered voter. The vendor will only have access to the voter information that we send on a daily basis for the purpose of mailing a ballot, they will not have access to the entire voter registration database at any time.
It is also important to note that the third-party vendor has no role in the counting of absentee ballots nor do employees of the Office of Elections and Voter Registration. Only the election officers assigned to Loudoun County’s Central Absentee Precinct can open an envelope containing a voted ballot. This process will not change as a result of using a third-party vendor for printing and mailing ballots.
The use of a third-party vendor will also enable us to provide an enhanced tracking system for voters who return their ballot to the Loudoun County Office of Elections and Voter Registration by U.S. mail. They will be able to track their ballot by accessing a tracking tool via the county’s website.
Once ballots are received at the Office of Elections and Voter Registration, they are immediately marked as returned in the state voter registration system. Voters will be able to check the state website to confirm receipt. This process will help increase confidence among voters because they can verify that their ballot was delivered to our office.
During my more than 35 years administering elections in Loudoun County, nothing has been more important than the integrity and accuracy of elections in our county. My decisions are non-partisan and are based solely on what is best for all voters in Loudoun County. Since we began exploring the best option for the mailing of absentee ballots, I have believed strongly that the use of a third-party vendor would be in the best interest of the voters in Loudoun County. My belief in the use of a vendor to accomplish this complex task has never wavered; however, as we gathered more information, I have temporarily delayed making a final decision until now. This allowed my staff and me to review concerns and new information as it was provided.
I have observed a considerable amount of misinformation regarding the use of a third-party vendor for printing ballots as well as about K&H Printing, which is the vendor that the counties of Fairfax and Loudoun will be using for this process. I have thoroughly reviewed the facts. Fairfax County first used K&H Printing in 2021 and reported not one single issue. We have also consulted numerous localities across the United States, which also resulted in no reported concerns about K&H Printing’s work. In fact, K&H Printing is highly recommended. K&H Printing has a proven track record over nearly 40 years, serving over 60 localities and millions of voters in from Alaska to Washington, DC. Neither I nor my staff has uncovered a single issue with the service, accuracy, efficiency, or security provided by K&H Printing.
Further, I have spoken with the Office of the County Attorney, the Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, and staff in the Fairfax County Office of Elections regarding the alleged violation of Virginia Code related to the printer oaths. Staff in the Fairfax County Office of Elections indicated that the Commonwealth’s Attorney has investigated the issue and found no evidence of criminal intent regarding the oaths and deemed it simply a clerical error that was corrected when discovered. Staff from the County Attorney’s office and the Commissioner of Elections indicated there is no reason not to move forward with use of the third-party vendor and do not consider the oath concern a material issue.
Therefore, I can assure you that the process for printing, assembling, and mailing of absentee ballots is being implemented with a highly qualified vendor that has a proven record for the integrity and accuracy of its work. I assure you that the process will be implemented in Loudoun County in a safe, secure, and efficient manner in accordance with Virginia law.
Please know the staff and volunteers working within the Office of Elections and Voter Registration are dedicated to providing each resident of Loudoun County with the opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote in accordance with the Constitution of the United States and the Code of Virginia.
My office has added information to our website about this decision and other measures that we have taken to ensure fair, accurate and secure elections. We want to be transparent about our processes and ensure that voters have the facts regarding our practices within Loudoun County. More detailed information about the administration of absentee voting in Loudoun County and election security in general is posted at loudoun.gov/electionsecurity.
Judith A. Brown, VREO, CERA Director of Elections / General Registrar