Joshua Cole talks to supporters during an election party on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Credit: Suzanne Carr-Rossi | AP

Virginia voters turned out steadily Tuesday to vote for legislative and local candidates under a new and temporary map designed to address racial discrimination in the House of Delegates. But in competitive Stafford County, some voters were given the wrong ballots, a problem that could lead to legal challenges in close races.

Voters in six Stafford precincts were given the wrong ballots early Tuesday, Virginia Commissioner of Elections Chris Piper told reporters. The problem was identified within the first half-hour of voting, according to Piper. But any votes cast will count in those races, as they did in 2017, and Piper estimated a full accounting could take “weeks to months.”

In 2017, one race involved in similar ballot mix-ups around Fredericksburg was so close it ended in a recount; Democrats tried unsuccessfully to block Republican Robert Thomas from taking office.

The Democratic candidate in that race, Joshua Cole, is now running against Republican Paul Milde III, who beat Thomas in a primary earlier this year. Milde campaign manager Dustin Curtis said they are “deeply disturbed by the ballot irregularities” but are “continuing to gather facts before considering legal options.”

The mistake also impacted voters in two less competitive districts. Several districts in the area divide precincts, and voters have had issues getting the right ballots for years.

Not long after polls closed, the state Board of Elections website crashed, leaving those looking for information on all 140 General Assembly races as well as local county supervisor and prosecutor races in the dark.

Piper said the problem was “an internal issue . . . not at all security-related.” Results continued to come in from localities and were distributed to news organizations, but they were not updated on the government website.

For a year with no statewide contest on the ballot, turnout appeared high in contested areas across the state. By 5 p.m., more than a quarter of registered voters in Fairfax and Virginia Beach and about a third of voters in Loudoun and Chesterfield had come to the polls.

Aside from the problem in Stafford, issues at polling places across the state were minimal, according to Piper.

Voters at several Prince William County polling places told reporters they had gotten ballots misprinted with the same choices on both sides. A local election official said the issue was “being handled” but could not say whether those ballots would be counted.

Jenny Meyer said she and her husband tried to vote around 11:10 a.m. at Rippon Middle School in Prince William County, but they could not because of the mistake.

About a dozen people were waiting around, Meyer said, hoping to be able to vote. She was told by poll workers that the machines rejected the defective ballots and that they should wait for new ones to arrive. But after an hour, she and her husband gave up and left.

“I enjoy voting, it’s a big deal for me, so I’m a little upset – shocked, really,” Meyer said.

She was able to vote later in the afternoon; a poll worker told her the correct ballots arrived at the precinct around 1:30 p.m. She was told about three dozen people left Rippon Middle School without voting although most returned later.

One Richmond precinct ran out of ballots early in the morning because of a mix-up in population counts. The issue was resolved within 15 minutes of notification, registrar J. Kirk Showalter said, and affected only voters in the 9th Senate district, not the competitive 10th Senate district. She added her “utmost apologies” for anyone turned away and said “we hope they will go back and vote.”

Twenty-five House districts were redrawn in Virginia for this election only, after the old lines were thrown out in court for illegally diluting the voting power of black voters. This map, drawn by an expert hired by a panel of federal judges, will exist for this election only. By 2021, a new map will be created based on the 2020 Census.