Pandemic Puts Focus on Voting By Mail

With elections taking place amid fear of contagion, voting by mail could become the way many people -- perhaps even most people -- cast their ballots this year.

Voting by mail is nothing new in Virginia. In November 2016, nearly 200,000 people submitted absentee ballots via the mail.

Republican critics claim that expanding mail votes could create opportunity for voter fraud, particularly if Virginia were to waive a required witness signature.

Expanded voting by mail will get trial runs on May 19 (when 115 cities and towns hold municipal elections) and June 23 (when political parties will select congressional and U.S. Senate nominees).

A Social Distancing Way to Vote

Step 1: Request an absentee ballot

A voter can apply online for an absentee ballot. After the application is received, a ballot will be mailed to the voter.

Who can vote absentee? Anyone can vote absentee on May 19. Normally, a voter must cite a specific reason to qualify. But because of the pandemic, election officials say any registered voter can simply cite reason 2-A “disability or illness.”

Step 2: Fill out and sign the absentee ballot


Question of Witness Signature: Under state law, ballots submitted in the mail must be signed by a witness. The League of Women Voters has asked a federal judge to remove the witness requirement, saying that this step could require voters who live alone to put themselves at risk during the coronavirus epidemic. The Northam administration agrees, but Republicans are seeking to keep the signature requirement, saying it is needed to combat voter fraud.

New Voters: Those voting first-time in a federal election must include a copy of a valid ID with their absentee ballot, or with the initial application.

Step 3: Mail the ballot to the local registrar

The ballot must be mailed in time for it to reach the local voter registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.


stamp Younger Voters Stumped: This may be the hardest part for younger voters, many of whom have never mailed a letter and don’t know where to buy stamps.

Voters can check the status of their application and ballot using Virginia’s Voter Information System.

Source: Virginia Department of Elections

April 30, 2020