Voting by Mail in the General Election: Here’s What Virginians Need to Know

Processed mail-in ballots are seen at an elections office prior to a primary election. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

By Arianna Coghill
July 27, 2020

Including how to register to vote, apply for a mail-in ballot, and the deadlines you need to follow

As the coronavirus pandemic persists across the nation, voting by mail has been recommended by elected officials and public health exports as a safer way to perform your civic duty, including in Virginia. 

And over the past year, Virginia legislators have made it easier to vote absentee, in part due to COVID-19. For example, they got rid of the requirement that voters have an “official” excuse to get a paper ballot, instead of going to the polls. The courts also supported the effort to get rid of the requirement to have a witness sign an absentee ballot in early May. 

With the November elections drawing nearer, here’s a step by step breakdown of the ins and outs of voting by mail in Virginia. 

Am I Eligible to Vote Absentee? 

Anyone is allowed to vote absentee, including mail-in, starting 45 days before Election Day. For the November General Elections, that day is September 19. However, if you’d like to vote absentee, you have to apply beforehand. 

How Do I Apply to Vote Absentee? 

Currently, there are three ways to apply for an absentee ballot in Virginia- applying online, calling your local registrar’s office or downloading and printing your own application at home. 

An absentee ballot can be requested as early as 12 months before an election, but are often mailed out 45 days before the election.

To apply for an online ballot, visit

You’ll need to enter your first and last name, as well as the last four digits of your social security number and the locality you live in. 

Check the box that says you are applying to vote absentee. 

Follow the instructions from there.

If you’re a first time voter or you don’t have state issued identification, you can call your local registrar’s office and ask them to send an application through the mail or you can download your own application and print it out at home.

To find your local registrar’s office, go here

What is the Deadline to Request an Absentee Ballot? 

For the Nov. 3 presidential election, the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail is October 23 by 5 p.m. The deadline for an absentee ballot in-person is October 31 by 5 p.m. 

How Do I Return an Absentee Ballot? When is the Deadline? 

After you follow the instructions on your ballot, you can drop off your ballot at your local registrar by 7 p.m. on Election Day. If you’re mailing in your ballot, your ballot must be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Do You Have to be Registered to Vote in Order to Vote Absentee?

Yes. The deadline to register to vote is October 13. To register online, go here or apply in-person at voter registration offices, public libraries or the DMV offices. 

Could My Vote Get Lost By Mail? Could My Vote Not be Counted? 

While there’s not much data to suggest that many ballots are getting lost in the mail, there is data that shows that thousands of ballots were not counted due to voter errors, like clerical mistakes or tardiness.

In the 2020 presidential primaries,Virginia had the highest number of rejected ballots than any other state, with almost 4,000 votes not being counted because they were mailed past the deadline. The Postal Services recommends mailing in your ballot no later than one week before the election to ensure it is counted.

According to Charles Stuart, a political scientist for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, those who use mail in voting for the first time, especially young Black and Latinx voters, are more likely to be rejected because of errors. 

Besides tardiness, other mistakes like mismatched or missing signatures can also lead to a vote not being counted. 

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