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The DMV may be closed, but we explain how you can still register online or through the mail

The 2020 presidential election is less than six months away, and Virginia’s voter registration numbers have dropped to historic lows compared to past presidential election years. It’s no surprise that officials say the coronavirus pandemic is to blame.

Last month there were 5,647 new voter registrations in Virginia, a 73% drop from April 2016 and an 81% drop from April 2012, according to registration data published by the Virginia Public Access Project. 

According to officials, the decrease can be explained by the closure of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles offices in March. Allowing residents to register to vote while they’re renewing their driver’s license or updating their address before they move can have a serious effect on voter rolls. 

“In-person transactions at the DMV are obviously not happening at the moment,” Elections Commissioner Chris Piper in an interview with the Virginia Mercury. “That reduces the number of interactions with the application process, as well as the fact that third-party groups can’t engage as they would at festivals and large gatherings of people.”

Virginia residents can still register to vote online through the DMV’s website or through the mail. Online registration is also available through the state’s election website. 

There is a chance that voter numbers could increase when pandemic subsides but there’s also the possibility, due to the size of the dropoff,  that numbers may not return to normal levels.

“I do think that when the DMV in-person interactions resume we’ll see an increase in the number of transactions,” Piper said. “It’s hard to say whether it will return to a normal level. We do and will continue to encourage people to go online and apply to register to vote there or update their information.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that 11 DMV offices will be reopening on May 18. However, they will only be handling things that cannot be done online, like getting an original driver’s license. Northam encourages Virginians to take advantage of the DMVs’ online services. 

“Anyone who can use DMV’s online services should continue to do so,” Northam said.

If you would like to register to vote online, use the Department of Elections site here or the DMV site here

Remember the deadlines for the following elections. 

  • General Elections are 22 days before election
  • Primary Elections are 22 days before election
  • Special Elections are 14 days before election
  • Special Elections (Called by the Governor) are 7 days before election