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Read more VPM News coverage of the historic 2023 elections in Virginia.

Miyares says third-party ballot collection legal under state law

Miyares gives remarks at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Attorney General Jason Miyares gives remarks on Tuesday, October 24, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia.

A group aiming to elect Republicans has sent out flyers to Virginia voters offering to drop off ballots on their behalf.

In an advisory opinion released last week, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said third-party groups or individuals can return ballots on behalf of other people as long as they get voters’ approval to do so.

It’s not clear what prompted the advisory opinion, which was requested by outgoing Del. Kathy Byron (R–Bedford). Her office declined an interview request and didn’t respond to requests to see the letter that prompted Miyares’ opinion. The AG’s office said the letter is protected by attorney-client privilege.

But it is clear third-party ballot collection is happening on some level in Virginia. A group called Our United Voices has sent out flyers to voters in Loudoun, Prince William and Henrico counties offering to collect ballots and drop them off, according to a Democrat-aligned activist who provided photos of the flyer to VPM News.

VPM News
A group called Our United Voices has sent out flyers offering to collect ballots and drop them off, according to a Democrat-aligned activist.

“We are a team of like-minded Republican voters who are making sure that our friends and neighbors get their ballots submitted,” the flyer said.

Our United Voices, which registered as an organization in Delaware during February, has a minimalist website that doesn’t explain how the group is funded. The website indicates OUV is a 501(c)4 nonprofit that aims to use “data science, expert political strategy, and communication networks to identify trends in swing voter psychology to develop persuasive messaging that motivates individuals to vote center-right.”

In a brief text message exchange with a number listed on the flyer, an unidentified person said the group is “delighted to be out in the community, urging voters to do their democratic duty, and supporting them in ways the law very clearly allows.” A person who answered the group’s phone number said she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Over the last several years, some Republicans have falsely linked ballot collection — or “ballot harvesting” — with fraud. Some have made similar claims about early voting in general.

But Gov. Glenn Youngkin has pushed conservatives to embrace an early voting strategy, which he’s called “Secure Your Vote.” The flyer used similar language, asking voters if “we can help you secure your ballot.” Zack Roday, a spokesperson for Youngkin’s political operation, said in an email that “we’re glad folks are supporting early voting.”

Miyares said in the advisory that current state code is worded in a way that allows for third-party ballot collection. Miyares also noted that state law doesn’t explicitly require a voter to be the one who drops off their own ballot.

“As the Supreme Court of Virginia has observed, when the law intends for a specific action to be taken by a voter personally, such intent can be incorporated with ease,” Miyares said.

Both University of Richmond law professor Hank Chambers and College of William & Mary law professor Rebecca Green agreed with that assessment.

“As I understand it, the general intent of the legislature when this provision passed in 2021 (when Democrats controlled both houses and the governorship) was to ensure absentee voting would be an available, easy, and secure option for all eligible voters,” Green said in an email.

Chambers said the flyers were a sign that at least some Republicans were warming up to the idea of third-party ballot collection.

“I think they're just looking up and saying, ‘There may be votes out there that could be cast for their candidates, we just want to make sure that those votes get in,’” Chambers said.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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