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Virginians who’ve yet to receive or return absentee ballots have in-person options

Signs outside voting location
Signs outside the North Courthouse Library in Chesterfield County during the 2020 general election. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

Interest in absentee voting has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many people wary of going to the polls in person to cast their votes. It’s also a more common voting option among Democratic than Republican voters.

For Tuesday’s election, voters who’ve previously requested and received their absentee ballot can still get it postmarked on Election Day, but it must be received by the registrar’s office by noon on Friday to count.

These ballots can instead be returned to a drop-off location listed on the ballot, the registrar’s office or at any polling location in the voter’s locality by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Or, says Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper, a voter can return the ballot to their local polling place and instead vote in person.

“You can turn it in, then they will issue you a regular ballot that you can cast on the machine there at the polling place,” Piper said.

And if voters have yet to receive their requested absentee ballot, Piper says they should go to the polls and vote in person by requesting a provisional ballot.

“You can let them [poll workers] know that you did not receive the ballot, and you will be issued a provisional ballot,” Piper told VPM News during an election briefing. “During the canvass process, at the electoral board meeting to consider provisional votes, they will check to make sure that your ballot has not been returned. And then at that point, your provisional vote will count.”

Piper says that as long as voters are in line at a polling place by 7 p.m., they won’t be turned away. And while they encourage voters to wear masks, he says they won’t be turned away if they don’t.

Last month, the Democratic Party of Virginia filed a lawsuit against USPS alleging mail delays in three Virginia counties.

The lawsuit stated that: “In Albemarle, Portsmouth, and James City Counties, thousands of ballots delivered to postal facilities by the general registrars weeks ago are still outstanding and, weeks later, have not yet even been scanned into USPS’s system.”

The lawsuit continues, “Even if these voters do eventually receive their ballots before Election Day, the slowdowns promise that they will not have sufficient time to send them back with assurance that they will arrive in time to be counted. And even if a ballot reaches the appropriate election official before the receipt deadline, if the official identifies any issues with it that require remediation before it may be counted, the voter will have run out of time to rectify the problem.”

The Virginia Department of Elections told CNN they “don’t comment on pending lawsuits.”

During an Election Day briefing, VPM News asked Pipier which Virginia localities, if any, were seeing mail delays. He did not directly respond to the question, but instead stated that “we work diligently with the post office to address any issues that we saw. My understanding is that the post offices have worked hard to address those issues.”

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.