Virginia has a proven system in place that allows every voter to safely register (if you have not yet done so) and cast a ballot in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election. The last day to register to vote in this fall’s election is Oct. 13.
There are three different ways you can vote this year!
What’s your plan?
1 Vote by Mail
Click here to apply online to vote absentee by mail. The deadline to apply is Oct. 23, but DO NOT WAIT until then. Remember, you can drop your absentee ballot in the secure drop box at your local registrar’s office rather than sending it in through the Post Office.
2 Vote Early In-person
You can vote early at your local registrar’s office beginning Sept. 18 and ending Oct. 31. To check that you are registered to vote, click here. To find the location and hours for early voting in your county, or call your local registrar’s office, click here. You do not have to have a reason or fill out an application to vote early. You will need to show an acceptable form of ID or sign an ID Confirmation Statement. To view a complete list of acceptable IDs, click here. Accessible equipment and/or curbside voting is available upon request.
3 Vote In-Person on Election Day
The polls will be open from 6 AM until 7 PM on November 3. Find your polling location here.
Thanks to new state law, Virginians may cast absentee ballots for any reason ― or no reason at all. Before July 1, Virginians had to pick from a limited menu of excuses (traveling, business obligations, illness, etc.) as to why they could not vote in person at their precinct on Election Day. Now, you can vote absentee by mail or vote early in person at your city or county registrar’s office or satellite voting location if you want to avoid the travel, perils, and hassles of election-day voting.
This is not the same thing as universal mail-in voting, recently much in the news and fiercely derided by Trump and his allies. The president himself votes absentee by mail.
In Virginia, a registered voter must request an absentee ballot. In states with universal mail-in voting, ballots are automatically mailed to registered voters whether they are requested or not. Five states with histories of electing Democrats and Republicans ― Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington ― have successfully done universal mail voting for years. Twenty-two states have expanded universal mail-voting options temporarily to protect voters from the pandemic: 17 of them are mailing out absentee ballot applications to registered voters; five – California, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Vermont – automatically send ballots to registered voters without their having to apply.
A Virginia voter can apply online for a mail-in absentee ballot or seek assistance by calling the registrar’s office for your locality. Those leery of completing an application online can download an application form from the Virginia Department of Elections, print it, complete it and return the application to their registrar’s office by fax, email, or by the U.S. Postal Service. The deadline for requesting absentee applications is 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. To be valid and counted, mailed Virginia ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3. They can be counted if received through the mail by Nov. 6, Piper said.
This is important: don’t push the deadlines. Apply now. Complete your ballot as soon as you receive it and put it in the mail immediately to ensure that the intentionally hamstrung Postal Service has ample time to deliver your ballot by Election Day. Given that the Postal Service has recommended allowing 15 days to return ballots by mail, a ballot mailed on Tuesday, Nov. 3 has little chance of being delivered three days later. Finally, make sure you have sufficient stamps for your envelope.
Early Voting In-Person
Though mail voting has a solid track record, there’s still something about marking a ballot at a polling station, turning it over to the official on-site, and walking out with one of those “I Voted!” lapel stickers. In-person early voting begins Sept. 18, the same day that mail-in ballots will be sent to those who have applied for them. The last day for in-person early voting is Saturday, Oct. 31.
To vote in person, there is no need to submit an application. Just look up your registrar’s office or satellite voting facility in large localities, go there and be sure to bring along appropriate identification or be prepared to sign a statement affirming your identity. Because some offices may be operating with limited staff and abbreviated business hours because of the coronavirus, it’s a good idea to call in advance to check on office hours and ask whether it’s necessary to make an appointment.
Vote on Election Day
For the first time, Election Day is an official state holiday in Virginia. Polls open at 6 a.m. Nov. 3 and close at 7 p.m. Anyone in line by the time the polls close will be allowed to cast a ballot.
Make sure you know where your current polling place is. You can look it up online or call your local registrar’s office in the days leading up to the election if you don’t have Internet access.
Don’t trust unsolicited communications on Election Day or the few days immediately before. They are falsehoods intended to stop you from voting. Among the classic tricks are trying to convince you that the election has been postponed, that your polling place has moved, or maybe that there is a warrant for your arrest and that police will be waiting for you at your voting precinct. They come in the form of phone calls, emails, printed flyers, text messages, letters and targeted social media posts.
Disregard them and go to your polling place. Tune in to a trusted local TV or radio station: if a fire or flood or other emergency necessitates a change in polling places or hours, that would be reported. Or, better, call your registrar or the State Department of Elections directly and, as Piper said, ask those who know. The toll-free state elections helpline is (800) 552-9745; TTY 711.
Finally, don’t let anyone intimidate you or turn you around. Any effort to impede your access to a ballot is a crime and you should report it immediately to election officers inside the polling place who know how to effectively deal with it and ensure that your vote is cast and counted.
Need more help? Call the Virginia Department of Elections (804) 864-8901