By Stefanie Jackson – Due to COVID-19, the 2020 U.S. presidential election will be “unprecedented,” and nonpartisan administrators are working to ensure “the voting process moves safely and securely,” Gov. Ralph Northam said during a press briefing Sept. 15.
Election officials anticipate a high number of absentee voters, which are defined as everyone who votes before Election Day, whether by mail or in person, Northam said.
The Virginia Department of Elections has already received more than 790,000 requests for mail-in absentee ballots, which will be sent to voters starting Friday, Sept. 18.
About 566,000 absentee ballots were cast in Virginia in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and only half of them were mail-in ballots.
“So now seven weeks before Election Day, we have already surpassed absentee demands from four years ago,” Northam said.
Any voter can submit an absentee ballot; a reason or excuse is not needed as it was in the past, he noted.
A ballot can be requested from a local voter registrar’s office or by visiting the Virginia Department of Elections website at https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation
Upon receipt of the absentee ballot, complete it, sign it, and return it either by mail or at the voter registrar’s office, the governor instructed.
(The Accomack County voter registrar’s office is at 24387 Joynes Neck Road, Accomac; the Northampton County voter registrar’s office is at 16404 Courthouse Road, Eastville.)
Absentee ballots can be returned at secure drop-off locations including “registrars’ offices, all satellite voting locations, and at polling places on Election Day. It’s just that easy,” Northam said.
Postage has been prepaid for all Virginia absentee ballots, he added.
For security, every absentee ballot envelope must have an “intelligent mail” barcode and an election mail logo.
“This is a critical security tool,” Northam said.
The logo, which reads “Official Election Mail,” tells postal workers that the envelope contains a ballot and should be prioritized.
The barcode, which appears above the voter’s name and address, enables the voter to track the ballot to ensure it is received at the voter registrar’s office.
There are two options for voting in person. Virginia voters can vote early at their local voter registrar’s office starting Friday, Sept. 18, and ending Saturday, Oct. 31 – one of the longest early-voting periods of any state, Northam said.
Those who prefer to vote in person on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, may line up at the polls from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
CARES Act funding is being used to ensure all election officers have the PPE (personal protective equipment) they need, and members of the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps will be present at all polling places to ensure that social distancing and sanitization measures are followed.
Virginia law authorizes election officials to begin processing absentee ballots as they are received; they are not required to wait until election night to begin counting votes.
Election officials do not have this authority in every state, so “everyone should be prepared to wait a few days to know the results of the presidential election as states count unprecedented numbers of mail-in votes,” Northam cautioned.
“It’s better to get an accurate count than a fast one. I want Virginians to know your vote is safe and it will count,” he said.
“The people serving as election officers and working in local voter registration offices are our friends and neighbors. We all share the priority of ensuring free and fair elections,” Northam told listeners.
He also reminded Virginians that the U.S. Census is ongoing and they should complete the census if they haven’t already.
Virginia loses $2,000 a year for every resident who is not counted in the U.S. Census, Northam said.
The current deadline for households to complete the census is Sept. 30.