Confusion Over Absentee Ballots Confusion Over Absentee Ballots

It’s officially primary season in Virginia, as early voting started Friday.

VIRGINIA BEACH – The polling machines are ready and ballots are waiting. Now the only question is do you want to vote now or wait for June 8? Friday marked the first day of early voting in Virginia’s primary elections. But who can vote and who are you voting for? Also, where can you do it? Let’s take a look.

First off, let’s talk about who’s running. These primaries will determine the Democratic candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Several delegate candidates will also be chosen.

Typically, primaries consist of two parties choosing candidates, but that’s not the case this year. Virginia Republicans decided not to hold a primary. Instead, they’ll decide their candidates through an unassembled convention on May 8.

What’s the difference? In an unassembled convention, Republican groups in Virginia cities and counties will pick delegates. Those delegates will travel to regional voting sites, where they’ll be the only ones casting a ballot to pick the winners.

Independent candidates, meanwhile, don’t have any type of primary. They automatically advance to the November ballot. That leaves the Democratic races.

Who Will Show Up?

One thing people hope to change this year is the primary turnout. Traditionally, primaries have a much smaller turnout than the regular election.

In 2016, 30.1% of registered Virginia voters took part in the presidential primary, according to the United States Election Project. The numbers didn’t increase four years later. Only 21.4% took part in the state’s June 3, 2020 primary.

Compare that to last November’s presidential race, where 73.85% of Virginia voters cast a ballot, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

Christine Lewis works as the deputy registrar for Virginia Beach. There, the percentage of primary voter turnout traditionally drops far lower than the state average.

“We normally get under 10% at a primary for people voting,” Lewis said.

Any registered voter can request an absentee ballot. You don’t need a reason to vote early, either in person or through the mail. But one way where primaries differ from the November elections is where it takes place.

There’s usually only one or two open early voting sites in each city or county. Most of the time, that’s the local elections office. However, some areas are changing their sites this spring, due to COVID-19 requirements. To find out where your area’s early voting site is, just follow this link to the Virginia Department of Elections. They walk you through a step by step process.

Absentee Voting

Now in order to vote early, you will need some ID. However, despite what you may hear, that does not have to be a photo ID. The General Assembly did away with that rule during last fall’s special session. Instead, you just need some form of identification.

The Virginia Department of Elections lists nine valid forms of identification on their website. The site also offers expanded identification options.

However, if they do not possess a driver’s license or other valid form of identification, they can still vote.

“If a person does not have one of those IDs that’s listed on the website, because it’s not a federal election they can sign an ID confirmation statement,” Lewis said.

So now you know what to bring and where you can vote, but what about when? Early in-person voting started April 23. That runs Monday through Saturday in every part of the state. Some areas, however, offer it at different times, so it does help to click this link and find your local elections office. The final day for early in-person voting is June 5. And yes, before anyone asks, you will need to wear a mask and practice social distancing while you vote.

What About Mail-In Options?

But what about those folks who can’t get off work in time to vote early? That’s what mail-in ballots are for. There are several ways to request a mail-in ballot.

“If they want their ballot mailed to them, they can either go online to the [Virginia] Department of Elections website [or] they can request that we send them an application through the mail,” Lewis said. “They can’t request one over the phone, though.”

So to be clear, you can ask for a mail-in ballot by clicking this link and answering the department’s questions.

For anyone who’s not familiar with this year’s group of candidates, you can check the Virginia Department of Election’s candidate list. You can also dive into Dogwood’s latest election story here.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com