After an attempt to move local municipal elections from May to November failed in the General Assembly, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday he is using his authority to delay ballot day until May 19.
More than 50 localities across the state are scheduled to hold elections in May, including South Boston and Scottsburg.
The governor wanted local elections moved to coincide with Election Day in November, but doing so was outside of Northam's authority and required approval from the General Assembly. Legislators returned to Richmond on Wednesday for what's generally known as "veto day" — a day to take up changes from the governor on bills passed in this year's session — to tackle myriad of issues introduced since the coronavirus pandemic took grip. The House of Delegates sided with Northam to push May elections to November, but the Senate did not.
“Virginians should never have to choose between casting a ballot and risking their health,” Northam said Friday. “I am grateful to the House of Delegates for taking action to move our upcoming elections, but unfortunately the Senate failed to make the same commonsense decision. While we strongly encourage every Virginian who can vote by mail to do so, we will also take every necessary step to conduct these elections in a way that ensures in-person voting is done safely and responsibly.”
Northam has directed the Department of Elections to provide the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to registrars on best practices to maintain social distancing and sanitization standards at polling locations.
The governor encourages voters to vote absentee by mail if their municipality is holding a General or Special Election on May 19. The Department of Elections recommends voters who request an absentee ballot use the reason code for having a disability or an illness.
Voters can request online that an absentee ballot be mailed to them by visiting elections.virginia.gov/voterinfo or by downloading and printing a request form at elections.virginia.gov/forms and returning the completed and signed form to their local General Registrar’s office by mail, fax or scanned attachment to an email. Contact information for General Registrar offices is on the form.
Voters completing a paper application may use reason 2A, “my disability or illness” to complete their form. Voters completing an online application to request an absentee ballot will need to follow the prompts and select “I have a reason or condition that prevents me from going to the polls on Election Day.” They will then have the option to choose “my disability or illness” as the reason for their request.
“Elections are a critical function of our government,” said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. “We will do everything in our power to maintain the integrity of our democratic process while ensuring the safety of all Virginians.”
Only individuals who were eligible to vote on May 5 may participate in the elections on May 19 and no new candidates are eligible to participate in the postponed elections. The deadline to register to vote or update an existing registration for the May 5 elections has passed. The deadline does not change for the elections scheduled for May 19.
Local registrar offices must receive mailed-in requests for absentee ballots for the May 19 election by 5 p.m. May 12. Voters are advised to apply immediately to account for any potential delays in mail delivery.
Absentee ballots returned by mail must be received by the local registrar by 7 p.m. on May 19 — the new Election Day. Voters can find contact information for their local registrar at elections.virginia.gov/localGR. Voters are encouraged to mail their completed ballots as soon as possible to ensure they arrive before the deadline.
“This is the most challenging time in election administration that any of us have ever lived through,” said Allison J. Robbins, president of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia. “Registrars across Virginia are committed to ensuring that every election official feels protected while performing their duties on Election Day. Registrars are equally committed to ensuring the safety and security of all voters and ensuring that voters can cast their ballots with confidence that they will be counted.”
The Department of Elections is recruiting election officers to work at polling locations for the upcoming elections. Election officers are always in demand, but their service is needed even more now as the elections process faces unprecedented challenges. Election officers perform a wide range of functions on Election Day, including setting and up and breaking down activities at polling locations, providing voters with basic voting instructions, verifying voter information, and assisting with other duties as needed.
Northam encourages college and university students to become involved as election officers, especially when many retired Virginians — a population that traditionally serves as election officers — are at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19. While working as an election officer, students are not only able to help their communities, but they are also eligible for compensation.