Registered voters no longer need to cite a reason to submit an absentee ballot
Beginning today, registered voters in Virginia have the option of completing an absentee ballot in the Nov. 3 general election.
Under legislation approved by the 2020 General Assembly and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam, all voters are eligible for absentee voting; previously, the option was available only to those with a qualifying reason, such as business travel, college or military service.
The changes are designed to make voting convenient and safe, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means voters now can decide whether to fill out a ballot at their polling place on Election Day or submit an absentee ballot – either by mail or in person – in advance.
“Voting can now occur at your choice of time,” said Mark J. Coakley, Henrico County’s general registrar.
While voters should decide for themselves how they would like to vote, Coakley said it is best to act soon if mailing in an absentee ballot is preferred. That will help election officials avoid a surge of work associated with absentee ballots just before Election Day.
“We are pushing, if you want to vote by mail, do it now,” he said.
As of Thursday, Henrico’s Office of Voter Registration and Elections had received about 36,000 requests for absentee ballots for the Nov. 3 election. That compares with approximately 15,000 to 17,000 absentee ballots cast in 2016, 2012 and 2008 – the three most recent presidential election years.
By 8 a.m. today, more than 100 people had lined up at the Henrico County Government Center to take advantage of the opportunity to vote early.
Coakley expects absentee ballots to account for as many as half of the total ballots cast in this year’s election. Henrico has about 230,000 registered voters and saw about 76% of its registered voters participate in 2016 and 2012. Based on those projections, Henrico could have upwards of 80,000 to 90,000 absentee ballots.
Voters may complete an absentee ballot in person from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Office of Voter Registration and Elections at the Henrico County Government Center, 4305 E. Parham Road, and the Eastern Government Center, 3820 Nine Mile Road.
The offices also will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays from Oct. 10 through Oct. 31. Coakley said he is confident that all ballots will be counted and noted that Saturday hours are double what is required under state law.
“We are prepared to handle the expected surge of interest in absentee voting,” he said. “That gives us 560 hours of in-person voting” before Election Day.
Voters who request an absentee ballot by mail may complete them at home and return them by mail in postage paid envelopes or leave them in marked drop boxes near the entrances to Henrico’s government centers. The drop boxes will be accessible 24 hours a day, starting next week, and will be monitored via security cameras.
Other key dates for the upcoming election:
- Tuesday, Oct. 13 is the last day to register to vote. Voters may check their registration status at elections.virginia.gov.
- Friday, Oct. 23 is the last day to request to receive an absentee ballot by mail.
- Saturday, Oct. 31 is the last day to vote by absentee ballot at Voter Registration and Elections office locations.
Tuesday, Nov. 3 is Election Day. Absentee ballots returned by mail must be postmarked by this date. Absentee ballots also may be returned at any polling place in the county on Election Day. The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Before voting in person, voters must provide their name and address and show an acceptable form of identification or sign a confirmation statement. For a list of acceptable IDs, go to elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/in-person-voting.
For more information, including polling locations and sample ballots, go to henrico.us/registrar or call 501-4347.