By Shrinidhi Kittur and Brooke West
On April 12, Governor Ralph Northram signed sweeping new bills into law aimed at expanding access to voting in the state of Virginia. These laws took effect July 1 and repealed the state photo ID requirement, declared Election Day a state holiday, implemented automatic voter registration through the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and expanded early and absentee voting rights.
“Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” said Northam on Twitter. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.”
So what does this mean for voters who plan to participate in the upcoming election?
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, United States citizens who are over the age of 18 and wish to vote in November may check their registration status or register to vote through the VA Department of Elections site. A valid state issued driver’s license or other ID card is required to complete the registration.
There are three options for voters to submit their election ballots: absentee voting, early voting, and in person voting on Election Day.
Those who wish to vote in person may either choose to vote early or directly on Nov. 3. Due to the recently amended voting laws, citizens may now vote early up to 45 days prior to the election date without a stated excuse from Sept. 19 to Oct. 31. The nearest polling location in Henrico County can be found using the Polling Locations Lookup.
While the state’s photo ID requirement has been repealed, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, voters still need to provide other types of identification such as voter registration confirmation documents, a copy of a current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check, a paycheck, or other government documents that show the name and address of the voter.
If voters cannot present an ID card at the polling location, they may sign a statement confirming that they are indeed the person they claim to be and vote using a regular ballot. If they do not do so, they may still vote using a provisional ballot but will receive written instructions on how to submit copies of their identification documents so that their vote may be counted; voters have until noon on the Friday following Election Day to submit this identification.
Additionally, with the growing concern over the COVID-19 pandemic, many voters have chosen to vote by mail through an absentee ballot. Those who wish to submit an absentee ballot must first apply through the Department of Elections Absentee Application starting Sept. 19. The last day to request a ballot is 5:00 p.m. on Oct. 23. Some first-time voters may not be eligible to vote by mail and may need to refer to the Department of Elections site for further information.
After the application submission, voters will receive their ballot in the mail. The Absentee Ballot Lookup can be used to track the arrival of an absentee ballot. The deadline for these ballots to be completed, signed and returned for counting is 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. Voters may either drop off or mail their ballots to the local election office at 4305 East Parham Rd.
However, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, common mistakes can disqualify a mail ballot; guidelines to avoid these mistakes are outlined below.
Since improperly filling out a ballot is easy to do, use the preferred ink colors like blue or black, write it on a smooth surface, and make sure the ballot does not get wet. Sign the outer envelope with the same signature that the state has on file, and make sure that the ballot is sent in on time.
Any further questions or concerns can be directed to the Henrico County Office of Voter Registration and Elections at firstname.lastname@example.org.