How Virginia Democrats Made Early Voting Simple and Secure

Virginia Democrats speak at early vote rally on Sept. 22, 2023 (VA House Democratic Caucus)

By Carolyn Fiddler

September 26, 2023

Early voting in Virginia’s legislative elections kicked off on Friday, Sept. 22, and hundreds of thousands of Virginia voters are expected to cast their ballots ahead of Election Day.

Early voting in the commonwealth is convenient and simple, but it was not always so. And depending on which political party controls the General Assembly next year, it may not always be.

In Virginia, “early voting” is a term that refers to what is technically absentee voting – either in-person or by mail. All in-person early/absentee ballots must be cast prior to Election Day, of course; the last day for in-person early voting in 2023 is Saturday, Nov. 4, by 5 p.m. In-person early votes must be cast at your county’s voter registrar’s office during its normal business hours – typically Monday through Friday from 8 or 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., but the days and times these offices are open vary by locality, so be sure to check with your county’s own office.

Some of Virginia’s larger counties have satellite voting locations available during this period, as well – you can check here to find out if yours is one of them.

On Saturday, Oct. 28, and Saturday, Nov. 4, voters statewide who want to vote early but can’t make it work during the week will be able to cast their ballots at their local voter registration office or a satellite voting location.

Any voter who wishes to cast their ballot early – either in person or by mail – can do so for any reason at all, but this was not always the case.

Until 2020, early voters had to select a reason from a prescribed list of legal excuses to cast their ballots before Election Day. These reasons included military deployment, being physically away from your home county or city on Election Day, having a disability, attending school away from home, or having to work and commute for 11 or more of the 13 hours the polls are open on Election Day.

But after Democrats won full trifecta control of Virginia government in 2019 – governorship, state House, state Senate – they wasted no time in passing legislation designed to make ballot box access simpler.

House Bill 1, introduced in the 2020 legislative session, passed both Democratic-controlled chambers and was signed into law by Democratic governor Ralph Northam. It removed the need to have one of the prescribed excuses to vote early, and it allowed Virginians to vote early in person up to 45 days prior to an election.

The steep uptick in early voting numbers in that November’s election suggests that Virginians had been waiting for this change. When early voting became readily available in 2020, the number of Virginians who voted ahead of Election Day jumped more than 18-fold – from about 144,000 voters to almost 2.7 million. That number has dropped in the years since, but a bit over 30% of the electorate has voted early for the past two elections. In 2022, more than twice as many voters cast ballots early than in the previous midterm elections in 2018.

The nationwide GOP began attacking the legitimacy of voting by mail in 2020 with false claims of fraud, but both this and early in-person voting have been popular with Republicans and Democrats alike in the commonwealth.

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin is even making a specific push on behalf of his party to convince more GOP voters to cast their ballots before Election Day. In July, he launched a new initiative to encourage more Republicans to take advantage of the laws Democrats passed to make voting early easier.

Ironically, Youngkin’s Republican allies in the legislature have repeatedly attempted to roll back or repeal Virginia’s extended early voting period – efforts that were blocked by the Democratic majority in the state Senate.

This year alone, GOP lawmakers pushed bills that would shorten the early voting period from 45 days to just two weeks; reinstate the list of prescribed reasons required to vote early; and eliminate the permanent absentee voter list, which allows voters to sign up to receive mail-in ballots in every election instead of having to request one each time.

To highlight the start of early voting in Virginia’s 2023 General Assembly elections on Friday, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers held kickoff events aimed at encouraging more voters from each party to cast their ballots before Election Day.

The Virginia House Democratic Caucus was swift to highlight the hypocrisy of Republicans encouraging a method of voting they attempted to curb just months ago.

“Democrats have been making it easier for Virginians to vote and vote early for years now,” said House Democratic Caucus communications director Morgan Hopkins. “When Democrats had the majority, the Commonwealth went from the 49th hardest state to vote into the 11th easiest, while the Republicans have worked to make it harder for Virginians to vote at every turn. Just this year MAGA Republicans in the House voted to limit early and absentee voting. They will not stop.”

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

CATEGORIES: ELECTION | POLITICS

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