This post was written by Curcio Law Intern, Walter Smith
Given the COVID-19 pandemic in the middle of a presidential election year, there is an increased interest in absentee voting. Voters hoping to avoid the potential of getting sick while waiting in line or visiting their designated polling place during election day may be wondering what their options are in states where they are registered to vote.
While each state has its own approach, some general information may be useful as you consider what option is most appropriate for you.
Voting by Mail
All-Mail voting is when ballots are sent to eligible voters before election day without requiring an application or request. Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, before the COVID-19 pandemic, only five states had vote-by-mail presidential elections: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Three additional states allow counties to determine if a presidential election will be held entirely by mail: California, Nebraska, and North Dakota. With these exceptions, all other states have absentee ballots for voters who qualify and request it.
Some states have temporarily modified their requirements for the 2020 presidential election. A summary by state is here.
Absentee Voting by Mail is what people generally think of when they hear voting by mail. All states have some version of this and will mail an absentee ballot to qualified voters who request one. Qualifications for absentee voting by mail will vary by state, but many states do not require an excuse to vote absentee. Virginia is one of the states where any registered voter may vote by absentee ballot pursuant to Virginia Code § 24.2-700, but it does require voters to apply to vote by mail. However, if a voter registered to vote by mail and is voting for the first time in a city or county in Virginia, the voter will only be allowed to vote by mail if they meet one of the qualifying exemptions. See Virginia’s Department of Elections for those exemptions.
Voting in Person (early voting)
Many states offer early, in-person voting options. Following state guidelines, voters can vote in-person at designated locations, which may not be the same location as a voter’s polling place on the day of the election. A voter should look at his or her state’s guidelines for more information. In Virginia, early in-person voting is available starting 45 days prior to an election and continues until 5:00 p.m. on the Saturday immediately preceding the election. A registered voter in Virginia wishing to vote in-person does not need to apply to do so.
The Final Day of Voting
As fellow voters in Virginia, we hope this provides a brief, but useful summary of the options you have surrounding voting safely in the upcoming presidential election. With increased awareness of these options within our community, it’s important to remember that many of us will be voting well ahead of “Election Day.” We should be prepared for the potential of a delayed final outcome, and recognize that “Election Day” is actually just the final day of voting.
Be sure to review your state and locality guidelines for the most up-to-date information, as well as any guidance related to COVID-19 at your local polling places.
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