More voting options available


journalism advisor Kristine Brown

People enter an early voting station in Falls Church on Oct. 14.

Lizzie Stone, Staff Writer

Virginians will face unique circumstances when casting a vote this election season. Lawmakers in the past few months have tried to expand and simplify the ballot options available to voters. Registering is the first step to voting, and Virginia has moved the process online. On the Department of Elections (DoE) website, voters are asked to provide a form of ID and their personal information to register. It can also be done in person at the DMV or a local registrar’s office. The last day for those over 18 to register for the upcoming election was Oct. 13, but after a technical setback registration was available through midnight on Oct. 15.

“As long as you had some form of identification on hand, it was very easy to go on the website and just register,” senior Nick Kerr said. 

The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in late August aimed to make absentee voting easier during the pandemic. Absentee ballots can be requested for any reason through October 23 from the Virginia DoE website, and can also be tracked as the votes are counted. 

Drop boxes have been created at registration offices and polling places for absentee ballots to be brought as an alternative to using the mail. Ballots no longer have to be returned by the voter or a family member, providing busy or sick voters with more options. 

Legislators also set aside $2 million for prepaid postage for ballots and removed the witness requirement for voting absentee.

“I actually have my absentee ballot already,” Kerr said. “I’m currently contemplating whether to mail it or drop it off.” 

Absentee voting has seen a record number of participants. According to the Washington Post, over 1.2 million Virginia voters had already applied for absentee ballots in September, compared to about 200,000 during the 2016 election.

However, polling facilities are still expecting large numbers of in-person voters. More than 100,000 Virginians voted early in the first week after the polls opened in September versus only about 335,000 total in 2016. Early voting at a limited number of locations will last through Oct. 31, after which polling officials also plan to see crowds of voters on Election Day. 

“I decided to vote in-person because I don’t want to worry about if my vote is counted or not,” senior Kendra Bush said.  

Poll workers are planning to follow safety precautions to keep those crowds safe. The CDC recommends that poll volunteers wear face masks, provide hand sanitizer and disinfect voting surfaces. They also have guidelines for voters, including wearing masks, washing their hands and social distancing. All voters are also reminded to stay home if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms.

Many Americans who vote on election day have to fit the trip into a busy schedule, but Fairfax County schools have a holiday on Nov. 3 so students and staff can exercise their right to vote without missing class time.  Election Day polling places can be found on the same Citizen Portal used to register, on the Virginia DoE website. 

“Voting is a thing you’re given the right to do as an American,” said Kerr. “No matter what side of the spectrum you fall on, it’s a way to get your voice heard and get involved in the community around you.”