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Coronavirus, New Voting Laws: A Virginia Voter's Guide

'I Voted' Stickers on table
While more Virginians than ever before will vote absentee this year, many will be relieved to know that some counties are including 'I Voted' stickers with mail ballots. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

The process of voting will be, like so much of life, radically different for many Virginians this year. 

With the coronavirus making in-person voting a riskier option, new laws were passed to make it easier to vote absentee.

In February, the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill allowing all registered voters in the commonwealth to vote absentee without an excuse like illness or travel. Residents may vote absentee by mail or through early, in-person voting. The law, passed before Gov. Ralph Northam enacted provisions to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain in place for future elections.

Additionally, lawmakers addressed absentee voting during the special session that began in August. For the November election only, voters who do not wish to return their absentee ballots via mail will also have the option of returning them to designated drop-off locations. Information on ballot drop-off boxes can be found on the website for each registrar.

The assembly also appropriated funds for localities to provide paid postage on all absentee ballots. This will only apply to the upcoming election, though it may soon become law going forward.

Voters still need to apply to vote absentee and can track their ballot using Ballot Scout. If they later change their mind and wish to vote in person, either early or on election day, they must bring the absentee ballot with them. 

And if a voter has lost their ballot, they can get a provisional one at the polls, which will be counted once elections officials confirm that the original ballot was not returned. 

Those looking to vote early may do so at their local registrar’s office during open hours or on the two Saturdays directly preceding the election. Some localities opened additional locations for early voting.

In-person voters, both early and on election day, must bring  an approved form of identification. Those who arrive without proper ID may request to fill out a provisional ballot.

Dates to remember:

Last day to register to vote: Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Last day to request an absentee ballot: Friday, October 23, 2020 by 5 p.m.

Last day for in-person early voting: Saturday, October 31, 2020

Election Day: Tuesday, November 3, 2020 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked by November 3 and received by November 6, 2020

In addition to the presidential election, voters statewide will cast their ballots for the United States Senate, the House of Representatives and two amendments to the Virginia Constitution.

The first proposed amendment would revoke the power to draw voting district lines from the Virginia General Assembly and assign it to a commission made up of legislators and citizens. Members of the commission would be equally nominated by Democrats and Republicans.

Maps approved by a two-thirds supermajority of the commission will be sent to the General Assembly for a vote to implement without modification. District lines will not be subject to the governor’s approval. If the commission or the assembly fail to meet their deadlines, the Supreme Court of Virginia will draw the districts.

The proposal has become the subject of infighting for the Democratic party. Party members in favor of the amendment argue that it will alleviate partisan gerrymandering while others raise concerns that the commission won’t represent people of color

A ‘yes’ vote on question one is a vote in favor of adopting the commission.

The second proposed amendment would allow veterans of the United States armed forces or Virginia National guard who have a 100% permanent and total disability rating to exempt one motor vehicle from state and local taxation. A ‘yes’ vote on question two is a vote in favor of the exception. 

Voters are encouraged to cast absentee ballots, but may vote in person on November 3 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. at their assigned polling location. If you don’t know where to vote, you can visit the Virginia Department of Elections website. Those planning to vote in person are asked to wear masks. The number of voters allowed inside of a polling location at one time may be limited to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

*This article will be updated until after the election.

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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