Absentee ballot requests have been steadily coming in since May in the Halifax County voter registrar’s office, according to county voter registrar Heather Harding, with requests reaching more than 1,200.
She expaineded when voters participated in the May municpal elections, they went ahead and started making requests then.
“Many have expressed interest because of COVID,” said Harding.
In 2016 General Election, there were 1,663 total absentee voting ballots.
Harding said, in 2016, they had 670 county residents vote absentee by mail and 1,086 individuals vote absentee in-person.
The requests also surround a nation wide push from legislatures to vote absentee.
On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled proposed voting measures during a virtual joint meeting of the House Appropriations, House Finance, Senate Finance and Appropriations Committees “to make it easier to vote, not harder.”
His three proposals include setting aside $2 million for prepaid return postage on all absentee ballots sent out; permitting localities to implement drop off locations for Virginians who choose to vote absentee, under security standards to be set by the Virginia Department of Elections; and absentee cure process.
The governor’s proposed absentee cure process would allow Virginian voters to fix an error on their absentee ballot.
Currently, Virginians who make an error are not able to fix that error, and therefore their ballot may be discarded.
Many Virginians will be voting absentee for the first time this November, and this language will help ensure Virginians’ votes are counted, according to Northam.
The local voter registrar said they’ve already ordered a dropbox and had already previously decided to provide prepaid postage for absentee ballots, if they are legally able to do.
She also noted the dropbox would be located outside of the Halifax County voter registrar’s office, under a security camera.
But, the voter registrar still has a little under a month to get everything in order, as absentee voting begins Sept. 19.
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, ballots cannot be mailed out until 45 days prior to the Nov. 3 election.
Virginians can currently register to vote early online, at the voter registration office, or other locations. Visit the Virginia Department of Elections website, elections.virginia.gov, for a full list.
Registrations must be completed by Tuesday, Oct. 13 to vote in the Nov. 3 General Election.
Organizations such as Citizens Registering Citizens, Voters League of Virginia and R.A.C.E. are encouraging Halifax County residents to register to vote and are organizing events such as “Halifax Has Talent,” a voter registration drive on Sept. 12 at Edmunds Park in South Boston from 5 to 7 p.m.
Members of the Voters League of Virginia are encouraging “soles to the poles” every Thursday after Sept. 18 to vote prior to Election Day.
While some organizations are pushing for early voting, some in the Virginia General Assembly, such as 15th District Senator Frank Ruff are skeptical of the proposed measure to have unmanned dropboxes.
While admitting voting properly is important, Ruff said any action taken by the legislatures must ensure voters that every “legitimate vote is counted correctly.
“That means if you do not want to vote in person then one should not wait until the last minute to vote absentee. The Governor’s administration has proposed some changes in defiance of current law that risks my confidence in the vote. They would allow absentee ballots — be not be mailed or put in the hands of the registrar, but rather an unmanned box. This could allow someone to illegally vote a ballot or ballots,” Ruff said in an emailed statement.
But, Northam believes these proposed voting measures “will protect public health and ensure Virginians can safely exercise their right to vote in the November election. Whether you put your ballot in the mail or vote in-person, voting will be safe and secure in our Commonwealth.”
In the end, local registrars are just waiting and seeing so they move forward with the process of securing approved ballots.
However, they’re “used to last minute changes, especially this year with COVID-19,” as Harding said.
“We’re just going with the changes,” she added.