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VERIFY: Are absentee voting applications arriving the mail legit?

A mistake from a voter advocacy group called the Center for Voter Information is adding to the challenges of elections officials in Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. — You might have gotten a letter in your mailbox recently from the Center for Voter Information. Included in the letter is an application to register to vote by mail in Virginia.

Is it legitimate?

The Verify team has received multiple inquiries regarding these vote-by-mail applications, and while election officials confirm the applications themselves are indeed legitimate, it is from a non-government affiliated organization. And to make matters even more complicated, the included return envelope for hundreds of thousands of these applications directed residents to an incorrect mailing address.

The Virginia Department of Elections said it will immediately forward any such applications to the correct election offices for processing. 

The group behind the letters has apologized in a news release, blaming computer errors. Elections officials say any voter wanting an absentee ballot should apply online through the state's website.

RELATED: VERIFY: The difference between absentee ballots and mail-in ballots

The Center for Voter Information, which describes itself as non-partisan and nonprofit, credited the incorrect mailers to a printing error made by Smith-Edwards-Dunlap Company, which prepared the envelopes. The printing company acknowledged the mistake in a statement.

"In a recent mailing for CVI in Virginia we made a major error in our printing," the statement read. "We sent voters in eight Virginia jurisdictions a vote-by-mail application with a reply envelope that was addressed to the wrong jurisdiction. This mistake occurred because we incorrectly aligned a spreadsheet that matched the voter with their local election office."

The incorrect return addresses are between cities and counties that share the same name: Fairfax City and Fairfax County; Franklin City and Franklin County; Richmond City and Richmond County; and Roanoke City and Roanoke County.

Tom Lopach, the CEO of the Center For Voter Information, spoke with the Verify team on Friday, expressing regret for the mistake. 

"Nobody wants to create confusion or cause problems during this election cycle," he said. "Certainly we don't."

The organization said that it would work with local election officials in the Commonwealth to re-direct the vote-by-mail applications to the proper locations, and said that the nonprofit would pay to do so. 

The Virginia Department of Elections confirmed in a statement that these applications would be directed to the correct office. 

Meanwhile, some local voter registrars are complaining that the advocacy group means well but is really draining their resources. The City of Virginia Beach posted to Facebook on Friday that it was in no way affiliated with the Center for Voter Information, and encouraged people to apply for mail-in ballots through the Department of Elections' website instead.

A lot of comments in response to Virginia Beach's post had people wondering if it was in fact a scam, and on Monday the City issued a statement clarifying that the Center for Voter Information is indeed legitimate.

"The concern amongst local residents is legitimate and may stem from reports of errors on the pre-addressed envelopes sent by the Center for Voter Information in several areas of the state," said Virginia Beach General Registrar Donna Patterson. "With heightened concerns about fraud surrounding the 2020 election, we want to reassure those who received the mailings that this is not a scam."

For people wondering how the CVI got people's voter information to begin with, Patterson said that the Virginia Department of Elections can sell data to qualifying individuals and organizations.

"As a non-profit which promotes voter participation and registration, the Center for Voter Information may purchase voter information from the Virginia Department of Elections," Patterson said.

The Associated Press and WUSA9 News contributed to this report.

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