The early voting period for Virginia voters begins Friday, Sept. 18 for those wishing to either vote in-person or via mail. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, there is an expected increase in the number of voters electing to vote either early or via mail across the country, with North Carolina sending out more than 643,000 ballots last Friday as the first state to begin its mail-in voting program. Virginia has revamped its own mail-in ballot program, mandating ballots be equipped with bar codes to help voters track them; it has also removed the requirement to have a witnessed signature on ballots or submission of a state-approved reason for voting absentee.
Lynne Bolton, vice chair of the Botetourt County Democratic Committee, stressed mail-in ballots’ accessibility as well as the need for care in filling them out during a recent interview. “Everyone who is qualified to vote should immediately, if they have not done so already, go online and request a mail-in ballot. Then, the moment they receive it … turn it around and be very careful in how you’re filling it out … and then mail your ballot no later than a day later from when you get it to make sure … that they have time process and handle it.” Bolton also noted that mail-in ballots may be dropped off at the Botetourt County registrar’s office.
Delegate Terry Austin, the Republican representing Virginia’s 19th House District, views the mail-in ballot process differently. In a statement, the delegate said of August’s changes to the Virginian voting processes: “… the majority passed a vague law that stresses the already strained resources of our registrars and places the financial burden of implementation onto localities. This law requires registrars to provide pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots, place a drop-off box at every precinct voting location, review each ballot, and notify a voter within three days if a ballot is deemed ‘void.’ … Furthermore, the new law requires each locality to follow standards set forth by the Department of Elections. What makes this situation unique is that, as of now, these standards have yet to be communicated, and they do not have to be until 30 days after the law took effect on September 4.”
For Austin, changes in voting procedures magnify the importance of the federal elections. “The lack of communication with stakeholders is indicative of the current [state] majority’s method of governing … though the Virginia General Assembly is not up for election this year, the current legislation being passed by the majority is the same platform being pushed at a federal level. Free and fair elections are essential to our democracy. Removing uncertainty strengthens the veracity of the results; sowing confusion achieves the opposite … The choice is clear.”
The intricacies of this year’s election likewise accentuate this election’s importance for Bolton. “I lived up in the Philadelphia area doing sales and travel from 1976-2005 in New York-New Jersey-Long Island, and I watched the coverage of Donald Trump … I came to the election in 2016 feeling that he was a compromised candidate, that he was someone, based on the last 20-30 years, that… despite his words, had no love for this country except how he could make money.”
All Botetourt County registered voters are eligible to vote early at the Botetourt County Department of Elections and Voter Registration Office at 2 East Main Street in Fincastle beginning Friday, Sept. 18 until Saturday, Oct. 31. The office’s hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. weekdays with additional openings October 24 and October 31 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. The office will be closed in observance of Columbus Day on Oct. 12. Those wishing to vote in person must show a form of identification or be willing to sign an ID confirmation statement.
Mail-in ballots may be postmarked and counted up and until Election Day, but must be requested by Friday, Oct. 23 via either the Virginia Department of Elections’ website https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation or by calling 540-928-2120.