Categories
Citizenship

Virginia Absentee Voting

The 2020 legislature changed Virginia voting laws to permit general voting by mail and to remove the ballot witnessing requirement. These changes allow anyone to vote by mail in any Virginia election without a note from their mother.

Exercising your franchise is important to the vitality of US, Virginia, and Norfolk City polity. I have attempted to summarize Virginia policy and procedures for voter registration and absentee balloting. Please read the linked pages and use the links for all voting-related activities. The display text and link text are identical. Please confirm this by looking at the link target display in your browser, typically appearing in the window footer.

Reference [5], the citizen portal, is where you register and verify that your ballot was received and accepted. The other links give background information.

Reference [7] shows a typical locality Elections Office website. There, your general registrar will give information unique to the locale, especially local ballot questions and office citizen procedures and hours.

As of this writing (8 August 2020) I am unable to verify if the witness signature is still required on the outer envelope. It is the last bit of Jim Crow remaining in Virginia election procedures. I believe the legislature was to remove it in the emergency budget session scheduled for 18 August 2020.

More after the break

References

  1. https://www.elections.virginia.gov/media/electionadministration/electionlaw/2020-Changes-to-Virginia-Election-Laws.pdf
  2. https://www.elections.virginia.gov
  3. https://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/absentee-voting/
  4. https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation
  5. https://www.elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal/
  6. https://www.restore.virginia.gov
  7. https://www.norfolk.gov/706/Office-of-Elections
  8. https://www.princewilliamtimes.com/news/virginia-will-require-tracking-codes-on-all-absentee-ballot-envelopes/article_9048ee9c-d70f-11ea-a933-7bcac028aadf.html

The Citizen Portal [5] has a lot of first time visitor info up top. To actually transact business, click the GO button that follows the introductory material.

2020 Changes to Virginia Election Law

The following is a summary of changes to Virginia election law. Now, all electors may vote by absentee ballot procedures either in person or by mail. An “excuse” is no longer required. A ballot witness is no longer required. If you prefer mail voting, you can choose vote by mail as your normal means of voting confirmed yearly.

  1. HB1, SB111: No excuse required
  2. HB207: Permanent vote by mail option
  3. HB220: Virginia prepays return postage
  4. HB238, SB 455: Receipt of ballot … ballot was mailed by Election Day, the ballot can still be counted if received by the General Registrar by noon on the third day after the election…
  5. HB239: Deadline for requesting a ballot … With the new law, the deadline will be 5:00pm on the second Friday before Election Day.
  6. HB240: Renewal of absentee status …………… The law still requires that the General Registrar send a renewal application to everyone on the annual absentee list by December 15, 2020. This bill is similar to HB 207 (above).
  7. HB872: Must vote in person for the first election in a jurisdiction. Can this be an early vote or a regular polling place vote?

Restoration of Voting Rights

I believe the 2020 Virginia legislature amended the eligibility and procedures for restoring felon’s voting rights. Please check

https://www.restore.virginia.gov

Vote.Virginia.Gov

This state website provides complete election service for all candidates and electors. Go here for Virginia voter information. Do not waste your time with web searches or Facebook or Twitter “links” which can be malicious. Be especially wary of information appearing to originate with a campaign as spoofing is a thing. Especially on social media.

Reference [5] takes you to the citizen portal where you can review your registration, change your address, request an absentee ballot, and review the status of your absentee ballot request and submittal.

Registering

Reference [5] is the starting place for all on-line voting transactions. You may register to vote no less than 22 days before a vote. To do so you’ll need your social security number and your Virginia Driver’s License Number or non-driver ID number. You can register to vote, review your registration, update address or register in a new city or county, find your voting place, and vote by mail.

To register you must satisfy the following requirements

  • Be a resident of Virginia (a person who has come to Virginia for temporary purposes and intends to return to another state is not considered a resident for voting purposes).
  • Be a U. S. Citizen.
  • Be 18 years old (any person who is 17 years old and will be eighteen years of age at the next general election shall be permitted to register in advance and also vote in any intervening primary or special election).
  • Not be registered and plan to vote in another state.
  • Not currently declared mentally incompetent by a court of law.
  • If convicted of a felony, your right to vote must have been restored.

You may register in one of the following ways or locations.

  • Online at https://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/how-to-register/
  • At a city or county voter registration office
  • Public libraries
  • Virginia Department of Elections office
  • Department of Motor Vehicles offices
  • Voter Registration Drives (confirm outcome at Reference 5 as faux registration drives are a thing in some jurisdictions. Ask North Carolina.)

Verifying your registration

Use this web page https://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/view-your-info/index.html to review and verify your voter registration. The page gives change of address procedures when moving within Virginia or leaving Virginia. Reference [5] takes you to the start of the online processes.

Enter your identifying data. The system will return your voter description, your absentee ballot history, and your polling place location.

A snippet of the Dismal Wizard’s registration verification result showing polling place and absentee ballot history. You can confirm that your ballot was received and was in good order (approved) but not how voted.

Requesting a ballot

To request a ballot, you have two options, by mail and online via Reference [5]. In either event, you will need a Virginia Drivers License. Your license provides a unique identifier and your specimen signature. When you register, give your name as it appears on your drivers license. When you sign any voting document, use the signature you gave on your drivers license. Look, don’t “remember”. This must be correct for your application to be approved.

It helps if DMV has your current residence address. You will need an actual residence address even if you receive mail at a post office box or mail receipt service. Your residence address determines your voting district and precinct. Using a PO box address will cause rejection of your application. You may use a water bill or power bill to establish your residency address. Again, names must be consistent.

Nothing was mentioned about young voters living with parents or friends. I’d call the jurisdiction Elections Office for a consult.

Complete the ballot application as prompted by the registration process or form. You will attest that your are registering to vote for yourself and not on behalf of another and that the information you presented was correct. You are subject to perjury penalties if you are willfully misrepresenting yourself. You are subject to perjury and voter or registration fraud if using an identity not your own.

Voting

Your ballot will arrive by mail within about a week of mailing. It consists of an OCR form for the jurisdiction’s ballot machinery, an outer envelope that you sign using your signature of record (the one on your driver’s license). and an inner ballot envelope used to maintain the confidentiality of your vote.

Vote Early but only once

I recommend that you request your ballot by 1 October and mail it by 15 October. Voting early in the allowed mailing period is recommended as this keeps your ballot out of the last minute rush. You can check that that your ballot has been received using the Citizen Portal [5] described above.

The USPS has adequate capacity to support the election. Remember that they support US income tax filing on April 15 with most taxpayers waiting until that day to mail their forms and payment. This is a much larger load than that presented by the election. Note also that USPS has delivered multiple census notifications to each household in the US. They know how to do this. You just have to give time for the pig to move through the python. Mail well in advance of the deadline. Most mail internal to Virginia is delivered next day. I’d allow a week.

The backup will be with your County or City’s Elections Office. They do the actual work of tracking envelopes received, verifying the signature, opening the outer envelope, opening the inner envelope, and queuing the ballot for scanning. Scanning will go quickly

Norfolk VA Elections Office Closed to Public

The City of Norfolk Elections Office is closed to the public during the pandemic. The registrar makes the following statement about curb-side service.

Although Norfolk City offices are closed to the public, the Norfolk Office of Elections will offer curbside services during regular office hours. Please park in the Main Street circle (located next to the City Hall Building at the intersection of Main Street and St. Paul’s Boulevard) and contact our office via telephone at 757-664-4353 should you require assistance.

From https://www.norfolk.gov/706/Office-of-Elections

I recommend calling the office before traveling to verify that the Elections Office is allowed and able to provide the service you are seeking. Especially if you feel you need to amend your ballot or would like to vote in person. Note that once the numbered envelope has been opened, it will be difficult to intercept a ballot to replace it with an amended ballot. Get it right the first time.

First Time Voting has Additional Requirements

Voting absentee is somewhat more complex if you have not voted in person before. You can learn more at about first time voting federal ID requirements at https://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/absentee-voting/

Ballot Confidentiality and security

Your ballot is not in any way tied to your identity. You will return it in a nested envelopes and receipt of the outer envelop is recorded. The ballot itself and ballot envelope not identified. The ballot is extracted and a Mark Sense Reader records the votes. The ballot itself is retained as required by law for recounts and challenges.

The regulation, approved in a unanimous vote, requires local election officials to print a 65-character U.S. Postal Service Intelligent Mail barcode on both the outgoing envelopes sent to voters and the included return envelopes voters use to mail completed ballots back.

From a VirginiaMercury.com article via Prince Williams Times [8].

As reported in Virginia Mercury, Virginia will use USPS item tracking for the outbound ballot materials packet and the returned ballot packet. This marking appears on the outer mailing envelope and is in addition to the control number on the ballot outer envelope. The inner ballot envelope and the ballot itself remain anonymous.

Use the citizen portal [5] to check that your application was received and approved, that your ballot was mailed, and that your return ballot envelop was received and approved (signature verified and timely receipt).

Signing your ballot

Return your ballot using the numbered envelope, plain envelope, and mailing envelopes provided for those purposes. The three envelopes maintain confidentiality of your vote. Needless to say, spouses must mail their ballots separately using the envelopes provided. Virginia pays return postage so no need to trek to Food Lion for a book of stamps.

Voting is serious business!

An envelope contains one ballot and has one signature, that of the registered voter executing the ballot. Execution of a ballot is subject to perjury. Falsely executing a ballot is a serious matter. When you sign your ballot envelope you are attesting that the vote is yours and that it was not prepared under duress or in exchange for some consideration or thing of value.

Voter roll and voter verification when voting

The Secretary of State’s Elections office maintains the state’s voter roll. Most new residents register when they obtain a driver’s license. Most youth register when they first choose to vote. After registration, the state uses Social Security death notices and both DMV and USPS address corrections to track voter moves, cull deceased voters and voters moving out of state.

If you move within Virginia, report your new jurisdiction to the state elections office using the Citizen’s Portal [5]. They will update the voter roles of both your former jurisdiction and your new jurisdiction.

Yearly Voting Rolls Audit

https://www.elections.virginia.gov/media/formswarehouse/maintenance-reports/2019SBEListMaintenancereport.pdf describes the results of the most recent election list maintenance. A similar report will be prepared when 2020 maintenance is complete.

Ballot Validation

Absentee voter verification is a two step process. You are verified as a voter when you apply for a ballot. You area again verified when your ballot is received by checking the information on the numbered envelope against the approved application. Take care in a multi voter household not to switch materials. Each individual must vote using the materials sent in response to their application.

Most states are good at catching fraudulent registrations (ask former US representative Scott Taylor [VA-2] whose reelection campaign operatives submitted fraudulent registrations).

They are also good at catching incorrect ballots. If you use an alias or nickname, your vote will be down graded to provisional. Check your drivers license to see how you signed.

The state may also be good at catching multiple ballots. Don’t try to vote in both Chesapeake and Hampton. The state does ballot management globally for all of Virginia.

The state Elections Office performs additional voter validation and verification checks that are not disclosed publicly. State elections officers trade techniques and practices through their professional associations.