Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak) Vote by Mail
Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Early voting starts this Friday. Here are some easy steps to walk you through the process.

ALEXANDRIA-Typically, most people cast their ballots for the 2020 presidential election on November 3. But 2020 isn’t a normal year, so why should we expect that to change now? COVID-19 already caused 796,000 Virginia residents to request an absentee ballot as of Tuesday. But you have more than two choices. You can also vote in person before November, as Virginia’s early voting starts on Friday, Sept. 18.

But the pandemic and new voting laws left Virginians with questions. How does voting early work, especially in the age of COVID-19? That’s where we step in. We sat down with Alexandria’s general registrar director, Angela Turner, to break down in the ins and outs of voting early. 

How Do I Vote Early? 

When it comes to voting early, there are two options- voting in-person and voting by mail. 

Starting on Friday, voters can place their vote at their localities’ registrar’s office. Turner compares the process to putting in your vote on Election Day. However, the registrars’ office isn’t the only voting location available. Places like schools and libraries may be converted into satellite polling locations, depending on where you live.

These locations, just like on Election Day, will have strict safety guidelines to keep voters and election staff safe. To meet CDC approved guidelines,

The deadline to cast your vote early is Oct. 31.

In Virginia, you have to show a valid form of ID to cast a ballot. That applies to early voting, just as it does in November. That ID can be a Virginia driver’s license, United States passport, employer-issued photo IDs, a paycheck or even a copy of a current utility bill containing the voter’s name and address.

Now if you show up to vote without ID, you’ll be required to sign a statement. It simply says you are the registered voter you claim to be. Election officials then verify that claim, to make sure someone else isn’t using your name.

If you refuse to sign the statement, you can still vote by using what’s called a provisional ballot. In this case, you have to submit a copy of your ID in order for the vote to count. And the clock is ticking. Provisional voters have until noon on the Friday following the election to give their local elections office a valid ID. Otherwise, their vote will not count.

How Do I Vote By Mail?

Another option for casting your vote in-person this year is through the mail. But before you can vote by mail, you have to apply first.

Voters can request a ballot in the mail in a couple different ways:

  • They can apply online at www.elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal/ If you choose to apply online, you’ll need photo identification and a signature with the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  • They can download an application, print it out, complete it, and send it to the registrars’ office. If you complete a paper application, you can fax, email or mail it in.

“Or, since there’s so much time, you can call (the registrars’ office) and we can mail you an application, you complete it and send it back to us,” said Turner.

The deadline for apply to vote by mail is Oct 22, by 5 p.m. However, the registrar’s office must receive your request by this time.

“It has to be physically in our hands by 5 p.m. Not a postmark. Not a you just walked through the door at 5:05,” said Turner.

READ MORE: 3 Claims About Voting-By-Mail That Are Totally Wrong

After they receive your application, the registers’ office puts your information in the statewide database.

“We mark those individuals as having an absentee ballot on file. And then we mail out their ballots. The first batch of ballots will go out on Friday,” said Turner.

When it comes to returning mail-in ballots, there are a couple different options.

  • Voters can mail it back using the US postal service. If they do, postage is prepaid.
  • Voters can use a commercial delivery service like UPS or Fedex.
  • Drop boxes are also available.

Your ballot must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and in the registrar’s office by Nov. 6

“I do encourage sending it earlier because we don’t know how long the postal service will take,” said Turner.

What’s The Deal With Drop Boxes?

The General Assembly recently passed a law that requires each polling location to have a drop box by Election Day. If the registrar feels more are needed, the office is allowed to install more.

Drop boxes have been a hot button subject in Virginia’s legislation for the past few months. Many conservative lawmakers have claimed that introducing drop boxes would lead to increased voter fraud. However, progressive officials insist this is not true.

“Thirty states use drop-boxes such as this. We’re not inventing the wheel here,” said Sen Creigh-Deeds (D-Bath) during a Senate committee meeting last month.

But this law wasn’t only one passed to make voting easier in 2020.

Traditionally, absentee voters had to have a witness sign their ballot before submitting it. However, thanks to a law passed in August, witness signatures are no longer needed.

How Do I Check My Registration?

Turner advises checking your voter registration has the right address before arriving to the polls. You can check your voter registration online through the citizen portal.

Virginia’s registration deadline is Oct. 13.

What Do I Need to Bring to the Polls?

According to Turner, all you’ll need to bring to the polls is a valid form of identification and a mask. Now in Virginia, you don’t need a photo ID to vote, because of a new law passed by Northam this year.

Before heading to the polls, Turner also recommends taking a look at your city’s sample ballot. You can find a sample ballot on your city’s website.

“There are two constitutional amendments on the ballot this year. So I recommend doing your research,” said Turner. “Take all the time you need in the booth, but I recommend having your decision ready so you can mark your ballot and go. It’s better to keep crowds moving and have fewer people in the room.”

Remember, there’s more than just the president on your ticket. Depending on your city, there are senator and house representatives as well.