14,000 Overlooked Ballots Discovered on Henrico Flash Drive — Yes, It Was an Innocent Error

by James A. Bacon

The conservative blogosphere is ablaze with anecdotes and accusations of Democratic Party voter fraud. I’ll leave it to others to determine if there is any substance to the charges in in locales ranging from Philadelphia to Nevada. But there is one case very close to home — in my home jurisdiction of Henrico County — that bears comment.

Last night, Republic Nick Freitas held a slender lead — 1,350 votes — over incumbent Democrat Abigail Spanberger in the 7th congressional district race. Then, suddenly, the election scoreboard showed that she had leaped ahead with a 5,134-vote lead. The explanation, according to the Virginia Public Access Project: Election officials discovered 14,616 votes that had been overlooked on election night.

“Officials overlooked the ballots, which were saved on a memory stick mislabeled as ‘provisional ballots,'” VPAP tweeted. This batch of ballots broke 64.0% for Spanberger and 34.8% for Freitas.

The conservative blog Just The News highlighted the sudden shift this morning in a headline: “Virginia Democrat Spanberger surges ahead after ‘overlooked’ ballots found on flash drive: Report.”

I understand the alarm. Given the numbers provided by VPAP, we can calculate that the discovery of mislabeled ballots added about 9,354 to Spanberger’s tally and 5,086 to Freitas’. In other words, the mislabeled ballots netted 4,268 votes for Spanberger. Without those votes, her lead would be less than 1,000 — certainly enough to warrant a recount in an election in which 450,000 votes were cast. But this does not appear to be a case of crooked officials “discovering” missing ballots that never existed.

Here is the explanation that Henrico Registrar Mark Coakley gave the Henrico Citizen:

The ballots in question all involved in-person absentee votes, he said. When a voter casts a ballot in person, he or she scans the ballot into a machine just as voters do on Election Day, and memory sticks in the machine take images of each ballot.

Each machine has two sticks – a primary one and a backup, he said. Each 4 GB stick can hold about 9,000 ballots, while an 8 GB stick can hold about 17,000.

As more sticks began to fill up, Coakley suggested that (instead of buying new ones) officials scan more in-person absentee ballots using a machine that typically scans only provisional ballots.

On election night and well into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Coakley’s team was uploading the data from each memory stick used during the absentee process to produce an overall absentee report to send to the Virginia Department of Elections.

But, he said, the report’s parameters by default were set to collect only the data from absentee machine sticks – and not from the provisional ballot machine. As a result, the ballots that had been saved on the provisional machine memory stick (just shy of 15,000) were not part of that report, Coakley said.

In their haste to send the report to the Virginia Department of Elections shortly after 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, Coakley said, Henrico officials didn’t compare the data to an earlier report they’d produced Tuesday night that reflected a total of all in-person and absentee ballots they had received.

Later in the day Wednesday, officials from the Virginia Public Access Project noticed what appeared to be a 21,000-vote discrepancy between the number of absentee votes the county had reported to the VDOE and the total number it had identified Tuesday night. VPAP Tweeted about the discrepancy, prompting Coakley and his team to review their data immediately.

“When VPAP sent their Tweet, that threw up all sorts of red flags,” Coakley said, “because I knew we didn’t have 21,000 [completed].”

But he and others in the office then took the recording tapes from each machine that was used to scan ballots, compared the total number of ballots reflected on them and compared that with the data they had reported to VDOE. That’s when they realized that the memory stick from the provisional machine had been ignored during their earlier report.

“We would have caught it yesterday afternoon,” Coakley said Thursday, since such a reconciliation of data is a standard part of the reporting process.

Coakley’s seems entirely plausible, and it is noteworthy that the Freitas campaign has neither made an issue of the mislabeled ballots nor even found the incident worth issuing a statement on. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for updates, but at this point this seems to be a non-story. I hope the same can be said of the other allegations of election fraud around the country.

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30 responses to “14,000 Overlooked Ballots Discovered on Henrico Flash Drive — Yes, It Was an Innocent Error

  1. Have the found the other 6,000 ballots?

    21,000 – 15,000 = 6,000.

  2. If all went as it should, both parties would have had observers in the room as the county staff went through this process. Virginia law requiring that is clear. If the GOP had no such observers, then shame on it. But I suspect it did, which is why there has been no official outcry.

    This is like the lessons in science we’ve all been getting during the pandemic. Up close and immediate, the election process is often messy and human foibles comes to the forefront. The ultimate test will be to look at the Freitas and Trump votes and I bet they line up fairly well. If Freitas runs too far behind the top of his ticket, with an unusual percentage of undervotes, then it is time to follow up and look for a problem. Likewise if Spanberger runs too high above Biden. Or if there are obvious discrepancies from 2016.

    I don’t know why the GOP did its best to discourage its own people from voting early or voting absentee. It was clearly a tactical intent to claim “victory” on the day-of vote and then scream “fraud” as the mounds of absentees were counted afterwards. The issues popping up around the US are hardly new to this election, but this has to be the “Squeaker of the Century” so it is 2000 on steroids. Settle in for the recounts and lawsuits, thankfully not here in VA this time.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Does the Virginia ballot have a watermark? I think the ballots are supposed to have a mechanism for verification as an official ballot.

    • Not that I saw. I also saw nothing like microprint or patterns that would show up as VOID if it were photocopied.

      Which means that your average bank check that costs $15 for 1000 of them (been a LONG while since I had checks printed so that price maybe no longer accurate) has more security features than a Virginia ballot.

      • Unwrap a package of 100, as I did 11 times, and you will see stripes on the edge that would be hard to duplicate. Perhaps the scanner would reject something without those markings. Also quite a bit printed on the back.

        • Only stripes on the edge I saw were the barcode. Which is probably the same for all of them, so it’s not a barcode encoding a serial number.

          Not sure that double-sided printing is any hinderance to copying. Duplexers have been a standard feature on office printers and copiers for years.

          • Most people wouldn’t even see the stripe I mean unless holding a pile of ballots…I think fears of fake ballots are overblown. The real problem is perfectly legit ballots, mailed out but then diverted to other purposes, and the voter comes in and says, “gee, it never arrived…” or mailed out in bulk in some states, easy to harvest. Real vote fraud requires someone on the inside.

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Thank you. It is good to know that Virginia did her part to secure the ballots.

  4. Another aspect of this–Those ballots would have eventually been “discovered” and counted when the registrar’s office got around to processing provisional ballots. Better to have found them earlier, that to have some folks get all excited about winning, only to lose due to “provisional” ballots.

    • Better, and less embarrassing.

    • 14,ooo “provisional” ballots in would have been a major red flag. I think we did 3 in our precinct.

      • District versus precinct, I suppose. Still, over the next 10 days, those provisionals will be reviewed carefully to avoid mulligans.

        • Reviewing provisional ballots takes lots of time, and it usually requires the voter to come into the registrar’s office with the missing ID, or some other proof of eligibility, and I bet many just don’t bother. One interesting question now will be how many mail absentees do arrive via USPS on Wed, Thur or Fri under the new rule in Virginia.

          • It will also be interesting to note how many dead people and pets end up voting.

            “A half-million unsolicited absentee applications cause confusion in Virginia”

            “One person stated that a dead person received one and a pet received one,” said Deb Wake, president of the voting-rights advocacy group the League of Women Voters of Virginia.

            https://wtop.com/virginia/2020/08/unsolicited-absentee-applications-cause-confusion-in-virginia/

            I’m thinking I will update my will to include voting preferences. If I end up voting after I die, I should at least have some say in who I vote for. Seems only fair.

          • Nat, no doubting that because Scott Taylor’s campaign found dead people can sign petitions too.

            There are safe guards, and we know they work. How well is the question.

            You should visit the registrar, and renew your signature. They change on us old folks.

            Steve, a postmarked envelope should be the only requirement, and a 3-day delivery lag will easily cover in-state USPS. It’s a reasonable lag. The only exception I would extend is to ballots marked from an FPO, and say, 2 days prior to certification would be a reasonable deference to give those.

            Every vote counts. Ask former Delegate Yancy.

          • Two thing would improve the system in my opinion.

            1. Investigate and prosecute all reported cases of fraud no matter the party or impact on the election. We should not take it so casually. Watch the video to see what I mean.

            https://youtu.be/u1lQkAoU1qw

            2. We now require police officers to wear cameras, why not have cameras in polling places and especially where votes are being counted?

          • I nominate you to review 15 hours of tape from 3,000 precincts on election day, with another 30 hours of tape from 130 some registrars offices during the count….

          • Just as with police videos, the majority of the footage may never be viewed, but when something is reported it would be there to hopefully settle any allegations one way or the other.

            One of MANY reports of observers being prevented from doing their job.

            “When the Democrat political machine in Philadelphia refuses to follow the statute — and a court order (!) — and permit Republican election observers into the vote-counting process, the Democrats are clearly up to no good.”

            https://mobile.twitter.com/mrddmia/status/1324423606718312450

  5. Want evidence of how search engines slant the presentation of the news? This post has gone viral like no other post in the history of Bacon’s Rebellion has gone viral — 24,000 page views in two days and counting.

    Where is this traffic coming from? Not from Facebook, not from Twitter, not from the usual websites that refer readers to the blog. According to our analytics, it’s coming from search engines. Not all search engines — just Google. Google “Spanberger vote fraud” and see the No. 1 result:

    Why would Bacon’s Rebellion rank No. 1, ahead of establishment media outlets? I’m assuming that’s because, in this particular instance, I adopted the view that there was no voter fraud, thus confirming in a small way the larger Democratic party narrative and confounding the Trump campaign narrative. Would I have gotten the same ranking if I had found evidence of fraud? I doubt it.

    The “Just the News” website, which tipped me off to the possibility that voter fraud might exist, doesn’t appear in the first three pages of Google results, which means for all practical purposes no one will see it.

    Thank you, Google, for highlighting Bacon’s Rebellion and driving traffic to the blog. But I’m more convinced than ever that if I want to find news and perspectives counter to your preferred narrative, I’ll have to dig reaaallly deep in your search results.

    • I was noticing Google’s selectivity just this morning.

      I read quite a bit and often can’t remember where I’ve read something. So to refresh my memory before posting a comment at BR, I often Google key words. In the past that has brought up numerous sites, both liberal and conservative. In the last few days, however, it’s only provided left leaning sites.

    • Suggestion for Mr. Bacon:

      Update the article to include references to allegations of fraud at other areas around the country and see if that impacts how Google treats the article on searches. Inquiring minds want to know.

      “There’s something really STRANGE about Wisconsin’s election results…”

      https://therightscoop.com/theres-something-really-strange-about-wisconsins-election-results/

      “Yes, Democrats Are Trying To Steal The Election In Michigan, Wisconsin, And Pennsylvania”
      – The Federalist

    • James Wyatt Whitehead V

      Wow! The big leagues. I love it!

    • Right out of “The Social Dilemma,” the documentary on the social media algorithms you can now see on Netflix. Everybody needs to watch that and see how this works, usually with zero human intervention.

    • Conjecturing on Google’s algorithms? Might as well take a tab of acid and ask God.

      For years you could Google for “Paul Trible” “Asians have no value for life” and get results referencing his on the floor comment. Then it disappeared. Then it came back along with other comments on why he didn’t serve in Vietnam. Then it all disappeared. Then it comes back.

      Who knows? But gone better serves a college president.

    • Google: All the search results….that we want you to see.

      • Back in the late 90s I was working on a project that involved developing an algorithm for something or other and I did a Google search for “Krigging” “Optimal Interpolation” file:pdf

        Six sites came up, I highlighted them and sent them to print.

        About 5 minutes later my secretary came dashing in yelling, “Stop the printer!” I had 5 publication reprints and 20 pages of some of the best pornography you have ever seen.

        Indeed the 6th website was nothing but hardcore. How in God’s name that site had keywords of “Krigging” and “Optimal Interpolation” associated with it, and to a PDF on that site I cannot imagine.

        • There are a lot of useless and questionable sites that come up when doing Google searches. Some of which, if you go them, will load malware on your computer.

          But Google isn’t worried about removing THAT stuff from their search results.

          • It’s easy to see how QAnon exists.
            I spent the remainder of the day trying to figure out why that file came up. Okay, mostly. Our company had no specific policy on internet usage.

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