After big 2019 turnout, Virginia election officials eye busy 2020

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Virginia voters are selecting elected officials for the Virginia General Assembly and many local offices Nov. 5. (InsideNoVa/Emily Sides)

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As state and local officials work on certifying the results of the election Nov. 5, election officials know they’re set to implement a big change in the way voters in Virginia will cast their ballots next fall.

In the past, all residents voting early had to justify their absentee ballot, noting a reason they couldn’t make it to the polls on Election Day.

But Virginia voters will also be able to vote in-person early without any excuse required over an eight-day period in the runup to the election, said Matt Wilson, the senior deputy registrar for the county’s elections office. In 2020, that would be Oct. 24-31.

Voters will still be able to cast absentee ballots, with a reason they can’t be at the polls on Election Day, up to 45 days before the November 2020 election.

Next year’s presidential election already would be expected to draw a higher turnout of voters, but this year’s results show interest is continuing to increase.

In the race for chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, 112,037 votes were cast this year, 35.4% of registered voters, compared to 26.7% voter turnout in 2015.

Wilson said there was decent weather for Election Day and a lot of competitive races to draw voters.

“There was a lot riding on this election locally and statewide, so I think people said they were going to vote,” he said.

Wilson said while the new law on early voting takes effect for the November 2020 election, the Virginia General Assembly will meet in 2020 and has the authority to make changes to the new law.

“Voters still need to bring an I.D.,” Wilson said. “It’s going to look like if you voted on Election Day.”

Wilson said election staff aim to handle as many votes as possible. Starting to offer in-person early voting will be a logistical hurdle, but staff will do the best they can, Wilson said.

“If they vote before Election Day, it’ll make our job a lot easier,” he said.

Wilson said election officials are considering adding mobile polling locations for early voting at commuter lots in the county in an effort to meet voters where they are heading anyway.

There were few issues at the polls last week, but 4,000 ballots sent to three voting precincts — Rippon Middle School, River Oaks Elementary School and Leesylvania Elementary School — had misprinted a page of the long ballot.

While one precinct was able to print out copies of ballots on-site, staff had to drive over new, accurate ballots, Wilson said.

“It was an unfortunate situation,” Wilson said, but because the voting machines rejected the incorrect ballots, voters were able to cast correct ballots, Wilson said.

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