During the primary season the massive turnout of voters caused long lines and equally long wait times at polling places. This raised concerns about the safety of voting in the midst of a pandemic and increased interest in absentee ballots. In Virginia, voting by absentee ballot is easier than ever. In the 2020 legislative session (before the extent and severity of the pandemic was even known) Virginia revised the law regarding absentee ballots. Previously, Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-700 listed eleven reasons that qualified a voter to request an absentee ballot. Now, a voter doesn’t need an excuse, they can request an absentee ballot for any election in which they are qualified to vote. The request, which can be made by mail, fax, or email, has to be received by the local registrar of elections by 5:00 p.m. on Friday, October 23d. An in-person request for an absentee ballot must be made by Saturday, October 31st. Once the voter receives the ballot they must read all of the instructions that accompany it. It’s not a simple matter of checking a box! There are specific instructions on signing and placing the ballot in the provided envelope. If you are a first-time absentee voter, you might also have to send in a copy of some form of identification. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-707. Your mailed in vote has to be postmarked on or before November 3d and must be received by the local registrar of elections by noon on November 6th. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-709.
Even if your faith in the Post Office has been shaken by recent events you can still go the “vote by mail” route. While your ballot may arrive in the mail, you could return it to a drop-box. In a special session in August the General Assembly proposed, and Governor Northam signed, legislation permitting localities to establish drop-box locations for the return of absentee ballots. Hanover, Henrico, and Chesterfield Counties, as well as the City of Richmond, have taken advantage of this provision. Hanover’s drop box is located a the Wickham Government Building. Henrico’s drop-boxes are at the Western & Eastern Government Centers. Chesterfield County has five drop off locations, at the Registrar of Elections office and at various branches of the Chesterfield County Library System. The City of Richmond has three drop box locations, in the first floor lobby of the Office of the General Registrar , in the lobby of City Hall, and in the lobby of Southside Social Services Center. Or you could send your ballot back by FedEx or UPS. The use of a commercial carrier in lieu of the post office is allowed but a personal courier is not. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-707.
Still want to cast your ballot in person but don’t want to brave the lines on November 3d? Then you could take advantage of early voting. Virginians began casting ballots on September 18th and early voting continues until October 31st. According to Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-701.1, the office of the Registrar of Elections must be open for early voting during normal business hours beginning 45 days prior to Election Day and on the two Saturdays immediately preceding Election Day. On those Saturdays, the office must be open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Henrico County is adding two additional Saturdays, October 10th and 17th, to accomodate residents. The bill passed in the Special Session that permitted drop-boxes also authorized localities to have satellite locations for early voting. While Hanover, Henrico, and the City of Richmond aren’t going this route, Chesterfield County is opening four early voting/drop-off centers on October 19th. The satellite locations are at the LaPrade, Meadowdale, North Courthouse Road, and Ettrick-Matoaca branches of the Chesterfield County Library System.
What if, after requesting an absentee ballot, you decide that you do want to join your fellow citizens at the polls on Election Day? It’s quite simple. Take your absentee ballot with you. The poll workers will void that ballot and issue you a new one. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-708. But whatever method you choose to cast your vote, only do it once. Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-1004 makes it quite clear that intentionally voting more than once in the same election is a Class 6 Felony. Such a felony is punishable by imprisonment of 1 to 5 years, or at the discretion of the court, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more that $2,500. Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-10.
If reading this post has made you realize that you’re not registered to vote in this election, it’s not too late. Virginia voters have until Tuesday, October 13th at 5:00 p.m. to register to vote in the upcoming general election. As with absentee ballots, the registration can be done online, through the mail, or in person. Visit https://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/ for more information. If you want to vote in another state, remember that each state has its own rules regarding registration and absentee voting. Go to https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx, a website maintained by the National Conference of State Legislatures to determine the law in your state.