WASHINGTON — Virginia voters be warned: while a deadline for absentee ballot requests is next week, your ballot should be put in the mail this weekend if you want to be sure it counts.
“They have to be really quick and cast it, because their ballot when they get it has to be back in here by close of the polls, 7 p.m. on Election Day,” Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Kate Hanley said.
“If you have an absentee ballot … drop it in the mail as soon as possible, like today [or] tomorrow,” Hanley said.
In Virginia and D.C., unlike Maryland, the determination of whether a ballot can be counted is based on when it arrives at the elections office. It must arrive before polls close.
“It’s not postmarks. In 2016, the day after Election Day we got 525 ballots in, and they didn’t count even if they were postmarked on or before Election Day because this is state code” Hanley said.
Fairfax County has more registered voters than any other jurisdiction in Virginia, 759,595.
Nearly 40,000 of those people had cast ballots as of Friday morning, about 16,000 who had already sent in their mailed absentee ballots and more than 24,000 who had voted in-person absentee.
Virginia requires a reason to vote absentee in person or by mail, but those acceptable reasons include things like a likely long commute and workday on Election Day.
Hanley expects a surge in in-person absentee voting in the final week it is offered. The final day is Saturday, Nov. 3.
About 20,000 more absentee ballots have been sent out in the mail to voters that have yet to come back. (Remember, especially college students, you need to get a stamp to put on the envelope.)
The District left that postage reminder off its absentee ballot envelopes for this election.
Oct. 30 is also the deadline to request an absentee ballot by mail in D.C., which also cuts it extremely close.
Hanley recommends voters who have not already requested a mail-in ballot vote in-person if at all possible.
“It’ll be a couple of days at least for them to get their ballot back because of the mail, they have to vote it immediately to get it back in by Election Day. The time frame by code is very tight,” Hanley said.
Postal Service processing is slower than in the past.
“While they still say 1-3 days for a First Class piece of mail, we’ve heard in some meetings that it’s really 3-5 at least, so it’s really tight to make that deadline,” Hanley said.
All absentee ballots that are received on time are counted, and are sometimes counted first since they are already at the main elections office in each locality.
Voters worried about timing can also bring their absentee ballot to in-person voting locations to have it voided so they can cast a ballot in person.
In-person voting in Virginia requires a photo ID.
For in-person absentee voting, voters must go to one of the locations in their city or county.
In Fairfax County, the Fairfax County Government Center, Franconia Governmental Center, Lorton Library, Mason Governmental Center, McLean Governmental Center, Mount Vernon Governmental Center, North County Governmental Center, Providence Community Center, Sully Governmental Center and West Springfield Governmental Center are open each day through Nov. 3 (except Sunday) for in-person absentee voting.
In Maryland and D.C., no reason is required to vote early or absentee. Early voting has already begun in both Maryland and the District. In all cases, voters must go to locations within the county or city they live in.
Voter registration deadlines for Nov. 6 have passed, with a few exceptions.
In the District, all voters are allowed to register at the polls on Election Day.
In Maryland, voters who have not registered or who need to update their addresses can do so only at open early voting centers from Oct. 25 through Nov. 1, but not on Election Day, the state attorney general’s office said. That process requires proof of residency like a driver’s license, paycheck or utility bill with a current address.
Hanley also said active duty military can still go to Virginia registrars’ offices to register to vote. They can also provide a voter application on Election Day and cast a provisional ballot that will only be counted if the registration is determined to be legal and valid.