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Voters, officials need more training

Virginia media reported this week that the State Board of Elections has updated its ballot standards to make it more clear how voters are supposed to vote.

One wonders how much more clear it needs to be made. But the answer, after looking at the case of the 94th House District race from last year, is apparently “a lot.”

Republican David Yancey and Democrat Shelly Simonds were contesting the race. It was a close one, and a recount was requested. Election officials wound up going through each ballot one by one — and one in particular wound up causing a firestorm.

As most everyone knows by now, the bubbles for both candidates were filled in on the controversial ballot, but Simonds’ had a slash through it.

The ballot wasn’t originally counted. Then it was counted, for Yancey. Then there were court proceedings. Then the race was tied, and Yancey wound up winning the race by mere chance — his name was drawn out of a bowl.

The changes in the ballot standards mandate that instructions be included on what to do if a voter makes a mistake or wants to change his or her vote. It also clarifies that voters should not make marks other than filling in the oval; otherwise, their votes may not be counted.

There are also new standards for how the ballot is designed.

Of course, no matter what the instructions on the ballot say, there’s no telling what election officials will tell a voter. Many of them are good at their jobs, but some of them, unfortunately, are not.

I can tell you from personal experience that there are some election officials in Suffolk that don’t even know the laws regarding media in the polling places. We’re allowed to be there, as long as we are not impeding the voting process, taking a photo of a voter who does not want to be photographed or taking a photo that shows how a voter is voting.

But a rather combative election official at a Suffolk precinct once threatened to call the police on me when all I had done was inquire how many folks had voted there so far that day. He refused to go look at the sign on the door, which states the law regarding the media’s presence there.

Ever since then, my colleagues and I have printed out the Virginia code section that states our rights and carried it with us while gathering the news every Election Day.

If some election officials don’t know the laws about media in the polling places, it’s a good bet some of them don’t know the correct way to guide a voter through fixing a spoiled ballot.

So I think we can all agree that voters, apparently, need more instruction on how to vote, and election officials also need more training about every step of the process.

We should do everything possible to ensure that the vote of every qualified voter counts.