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Virginia Voters Can Now Track Their Mail-In Ballots

USPS mailman inside mail truck reaches for post box
A USPS mail carrier sorts through items for delivery. (U.S. Air Force photo/Creative Commons)

Mail-in ballots in Virginia will come with tracking codes and a special insignia designed to speed up delivery under regulations approved by the Board of Elections on Tuesday.

Voters will also be able to use the Intelligent Mail barcode to follow their ballots to the registrar’s office. That system was previously in place in 24 localities, a Department of Elections staffer told the board.

The move comes as President Donald Trump has stepped up his attacks on the agency’s ability to reliably return ballots, warning last month that mail-in voting would lead to “the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History.”

Voting rights groups have sounded the alarm over years of underfunding of the United States Postal Service, cost-cutting measures undertaken by Trump’s appointees, and the president’s hostile rhetoric toward the agency.

USPS pushed back on those concerns Monday, saying it had “ample capacity” to deal with an expected influx.

State Elections Commissioner Chris Piper says his department has a strong relationship with the regional representatives of USPS.

“We have been assured over and over again that election mail is a priority for the postal service,” he said.

Trump has especially targeted all-mail voting, where every voter receives a ballot by mail -- a system approved by Nevada’s legislature on Sunday. Democrats in Virginia instituted no-excuse absentee voting in this year’s legislative session, but have not taken the step of sending all voters ballots.

A new state law allows absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day to still be counted so long as registrars receive them by noon three days after election -- this year, Friday, November 6.

On Tuesday, the Board of Elections approved a new rule that would allow mail that somehow lacked a postmark to still be counted so long as it met that deadline. Piper and Board Chair Bob Brink said those cases would likely be very rare, but required some kind of fix in the code.

They made the move over objections by the group’s lone Republican, John O’Bannon, who expressed concern about the possibility of someone mailing their absentee ballot a day after election day, evading a postmark, and having their ballot counted.

“I know that’s a stretch, but I just want some assurance that we’ve thought this through properly,” he said.

Brink responded that the odds of a registrar receiving a ballot two days after it was mailed was “diminishingly small,” and argued disenfranchising voters was a bigger risk.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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