Today, Sept. 18, is the official start of the Nov. 3 election period, as registrars nationwide begin mailing out absentee ballots to registered voters who have requested them.
In Henrico, however, the first vote actually came in Wednesday. That’s because Henrico began mailing ballots in waves Tuesday, at the request of the Post Office.
“We have 36,000 absentee-by-mail requests,” Henrico Registrar Mark Coakley told the Citizen Wednesday, adding with a chuckle, “the Post Office says they really don’t want 36,000 pieces of mail coming to Lakeside [all at once], so we’ve been putting them out in batches.
One man received his ballot Wednesday, completed it and returned it the same day to the registrar’s office in person, Coakley said.
That’s just one of a number of ways voters can cast their ballots in what promises to be a unique election.
Coakley anticipates that about 85% of Henrico’s 230,000 registered voters will cast votes in this election and that about half of them (nearly 98,000) will do so by absentee ballot – a dramatic increase from previous years. (During the last presidential election in 2016, for example, the county received 16,000 total absentee ballots, Coakley said.)
The General Assembly eased guidelines for absentee voting rarlier this year, eliminating a requirement that voters had to provide a reason for voting absentee. Now, any registered voter in the state can request an absentee ballot for any reason.
“Every day’s an Election Day [now],” Coakley said. “We have 46 election days now. It’s your choice when to vote. You get to dictate to us when you want to vote. Before, we always told you it had to be on Tuesday. Now you’re telling us, I want to vote on a Thursday – and we’re letting you vote on a Thursday.
“It’s really now your choice . . . and the public’s going to eat it up. The voters area really going to embrace this as they have in other states.”
Below, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know about how, when and where to vote in this year’s election.
Registering to vote
There are a number of ways you can vote this year, but you can’t vote at all if you aren’t registered.
To find out if you are registered, or to make changes to your address or other information, visit vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/Lookup/status.
If you aren’t yet registered to vote, you may do so through Tuesday, Oct. 13. To complete an application online at vote.elections.virginia.gov/Registration/DmvLookup.
Or, you may visit the registrar’s office at the Western Henrico Government Center (Room 105 in the Admin Building Annex, 4305 East Parham Road) or at the Eastern Henrico Government Center (Room 100, 3820 Nine Mile Road) between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, to register or update your registration information in person.
If you have questions or need additional information, contact the Henrico Registrar’s Office at (804) 501-4347 or [email protected]
Absentee voting – in person
If you would like to vote absentee, you may do so – you don’t need to provide any reason.
You may vote absentee in person at the Henrico Government Center or Eastern Henrico Government Center locations shown above during normal business hours Monday through Friday (8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) and on the following Saturdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.: Oct. 10, 17, 24 and 31.
Voting absentee in person at the registrar’s office works the same as going to the polls in person would, Coakley said. You don’t need to request a ballot in advance – you simply arrive, show a form of accepted identification (find a complete list here) and cast your ballot. (If you don’t have identification with you, you will be permitted to cast a provisional ballot.)
The last day to vote absentee in person is Saturday, Oct. 31.
Absentee voting – other forms
Alternatively, you may request that an absentee ballot be mailed to you. To do so, click here.
You may also visit vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/Lookup/absentee to apply to vote absentee by mail.
The last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 23.
Absentee ballots for those who already have requested them in Henrico are being mailed this week. Your ballot will arrive to you with prepaid return postage, so you won’t need a stamp if you choose to return it by mail.
Once you’ve received your ballot, you have several options. You may:
• complete it and return it by mail (it must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by the registrar’s office by noon on Friday, Nov. 5 in order to be counted; the registrar’s office will make several trips each day to the post office to collect those ballots during that period, Coakley said).
• complete it and return it in person by 7 p.m. Nov. 3 to the Henrico Registrar’s Office at the Western Henrico Government Center (Room 105 in the Admin Building Annex, 4305 East Parham Road) or at the Eastern Henrico Government Center (Room 100, 3820 Nine Mile Road). The office’s normal hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but it will be open until 7 p.m. Election Day and also open four Saturdays in October – Oct. 10, 17, 24 and 31, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• complete it and return it in person at your polling location on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3, between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. Each location will have a separate line to receive absentee ballots, Coakley said, so that voters returning their ballots this way won’t have to wait in a line with in-person voters. A collection box will be located at the entrance of each polling place, manned by poll workers.
• complete it and return it by 7 p.m., Nov. 3 to one of two secure drop boxes located outside the registrar’s office at the Western Henrico Government Center and at the Eastern Henrico Government Center. The drop box option just earned approval from the General Assembly and Gov. Ralph Northam during the current special session, and local registrars then scrambled to order boxes, Coakley said.
“There was a mad dash all over the country to find drop boxes,” Coakley said. “The company we went with, we got the last two.”
Those will be installed by next week, he said.
Voting in person on Election Day
If you plan to vote in person on Election Day – Tuesday, Nov. 3 – you should bring an acceptable form of ID with you. View the list of acceptable IDs here.
To find out where your polling place is located, visit vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/Lookup/polling.
If you show up to the polls without an ID, don’t worry – you can still vote. You may sign an ID statement affirming your identity and cast your ballot. If you do not sign an ID statement to affirm your identity, you may vote a provisional ballot. You will be provided instructions to ensure your vote will count.
As noted above, you may return your absentee ballot in person to your polling place on Election Day between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. You will be directed to a separate area at the entrance where poll workers will receive your ballot and place it into a collection box.
You also may vote curbside at your polling place on Election Day. Dedicated poll workers will greet voters in their cars, confirm their identities, bring them a ballot and then place it in a collection box, Coakley said. The service primarily is for older or disabled voters who have difficulty walking or who otherwise would have trouble standing in line for a long period of time.
As long as you are in line by 7 p.m., you will be allowed to vote.
What’s on the ballot
Henrico voters will be casting their ballots in the U.S. presidential election, as well as for one of Virginia’s two U.S. Senators and for their U.S. House of Representatives member (in either the 4th District or the 7th District, depending upon where in the county they live).
They’ll also decide on two proposed amendments to the constitution of Virginia:
• one that would establish a redistricting commission consisting of 8 citizens and eight General Assembly members that would create the state’s congressional and state legislative districts, which the General Assembly then either would approve or deny (but not change);
• and one that would eliminate personal property taxes on vehicles owned by United States armed forces or Virginia National Guard veterans who have service-connected permanent disabilities.
Click here to view the sample ballot if you live in the Fourth Congressional District (primarily Northern and Eastern Henrico).
Click here to view the sample ballot if you live in the Seventh Congressional District (primarily the West End and Glen Allen).
Addressing potential fraud
A chief concern of some voters nationwide this year is the potential for voter fraud, given the high number of votes expected to be cast by absentee ballot.
Coakley told the Citizen that fraud has not been a concern in Henrico in past years.
“It really doesn’t happen here,” he said. “There are so many checks and balances with voting nowadays.”
Voting officials check and verify all vital information that voters and potential voters provide when registering, he said, and that process has proven effective.
Coakley’s office of 10 full-time employees has hired more than 35 part-time employees to assist with this year’s election, he said. The office also received more than 4,000 applications from people who wanted to volunteer at the county’s polling locations, he said, and selected about 1,300 of them. Those volunteers will be trained next month through a combination of in-person and virtual events.
Resources for deaf, deaf blind or hard of hearing voters
Here2Hear and Virginia Relay will present a webinar Oct. 3, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., with a representative from the Virginia Board of Elections, who will discuss policies for voters who are deaf, deaf blind or hard of hearing.
Registration is required at www.Here2hear.org, and space is limited. Sign language interpreters and captioning will be available. Contact Here2Hear at [email protected] or (804) 774-8311 with questions.