By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
In past years state election officials and political parties have worried about the weather or apathy affecting voter turnout to the polls in the spring and fall.
But this year, facing one of the most crucial General Elections in decades, there are concerns that COVID-19 and suspected devious political calculations could negatively impact the November 3 General Election.
The idea of standing in lines for hours is a growing fear among voters reluctant to go to the polls and potentially exposing themselves to the deadly virus.
So state and local election officials predict an increase in the application of absentee voting which is the only early means of voting in Virginia without going to the polls.
But inexperience in navigating the process of applying for an absentee ballot, and filling out and returning the ballot via mail or in-person by the deadline may hamper many voters from voting or having their absentee vote counted.
These factors may especially hamper elderly or poor Black people living in urban and rural communities from exercising their right to vote.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) will bear the burden of assuring absentee ballots are delivered to voters’ homes and returned to be counted.
Yet, residents across the nation, including Hampton Roads, have complained of slowed or sporadic mail delivery.
Over the past two decades, the USPS has experienced funding shortfalls due to competition with email and other technologies.
The agency has been the target of Trump’s White House which has hesitated to approve additional funds to cope with the added burden of timely mail delivery related
to the upcoming election.
USPS Union officials have reported the agency’s new Postmaster General, selected at the direction of the White House, has issued orders that will slow the processing and distribution of mail.
Union officials claim that the slowdown is due to White House efforts to sabotage USPS service by slowing down the return of absentee ballots from the homes of people who may support Democratic candidates.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, residents of a large public housing community say they had no mail delivery for a week.
Preparing For November’s Election
Norfolk’s Director of Elections and General Registrar Stephanie L. Iles said the November 3 election will be the fourth election of the year.
She said the recent city council and school board contests in May saw absentee voting equal to voter participation for a presidential election which is high.
Iles said she and other elections officials around Virginia expect a similar use of absentee ballots and are preparing for it.
The November ballot in Virginia will be longer this year and Iles suggested it may be double-sided. Along with the presidential and Congressional races, and state House races, both Portsmouth and Virginia Beach will have council and school board contests.
Plus there will be a referendum on the Norfolk, Portsmouth, Richmond, Danville and Petersburg ballots to allow residents of those locales to determine if legal gambling will be allowed.
She said the Virginia legislature eased some of the laws related to voting. Also, state funding will assure resources for the safety of poll workers and voters, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
One of the legislative reforms included making this year’s Election Day a holiday.
There will be an expansion of the kinds of I.D. which can be used by residents and students.
The deadline to register for the November 3rd General and Special Elections is October 13th at 5:00 p.m. for in-person and 11:59 p.m. for online.
Absentee voting will begin Friday, September 18th. And people are urged to send in their ballot as early as possible.
Meeting Absentee Balloting Deadlines
The deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail (“Vote At Home”) is 5 p.m. Friday, October 23rd.
In addition to the regular local Registrar’s office hours, Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., they will be open for in-person absentee voting on
Saturday, October 24th and 31st from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Individuals may register to vote, update voter information, or request an absentee ballot by calling their local registrar’s office or doing it online after September 18 when all of the contests and other information have been placed on the ballots.
Individuals may also go online through the Virginia Department of Elections
Mail Your Absentee Ballot Early
Civil rights organizations and registrars are urging that voters send their ballots back to be accounted at least a week or earlier before an election to assure they are counted.
In Virginia, if a ballot arrives at the registrars’ office by at least 7 p.m., on November 3, it will be counted. Also, if it is postmarked by November 6, it will be counted, if it is not at the registrar’s office.
Apart from the worries about alleged fears of political
interference with mail delivery, Hampton Roads voters, have an additional issue which should prompt them to get their mail ballots in early
Mail collected from homes and businesses in Hampton Roads is dispatched to a site near Richmond to be sorted.
All mail for addresses in Hampton Roads is then returned to the region for distribution contributing to a two or three-day delay.
So soon after Sept. 18, voters opting to use the mail, should fill out their ballots and mail them back to the registrar.
Recruiting Younger Poll Workers
This year’s election during COVID-19 has election officials concerned that older people who usually work at the polls and are the most vulnerable to the virus infection may be reluctant to work this year.
Iles said in recent years registrars have been recruiting
younger people to work the polls. Poll workers are paid and provided with a certification of public service.
Individuals do not have to be a resident of any city to
work at the polls. Interested persons should apply to work at the polls today through city registrar offices.