Northam pushes for ballot drop-off boxes, other steps to ease absentee voting in Va.

Gov. Ralph Northam proposed on Tuesday to set aside $2 million to pay for return postage on all absentee ballots mailed to Virginia voters, as well as allowing drop-off boxes for absentee ballots.

Northam said the changes would expand access to voting for the Nov. 3 general election amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

At a virtual joint meeting of the appropriations and finance committees of the Virginia House and Senate, Northam presented the following proposals:

  • Prepaid postage — Northam’s proposed budget sets aside $2 million for prepaid return postage on all absentee ballots sent out for the Nov. 3 election.
  • Drop-off boxes and drop-off locations — Localities would be able to use secure drop boxes or implement drop-off locations where voters can drop absentee ballots instead of sending them through the mail.
  • Absentee ballot errors — Northam’s measure would allow voters to fix errors on their absentee ballots. Currently, Virginians can’t fix errors and therefore their ballot may be discarded.

“As we continue to navigate this pandemic, we must take additional steps to make it easier to vote, not harder,” Northam said in a statement. “With these measures, we will protect public health and ensure Virginians can safely exercise their right to vote in the November election. Whether you put your ballot in the mail or vote in-person, voting will be safe and secure in our commonwealth.”

Absentee drop-off boxes are already used in Maryland and D.C.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, elections officials are requesting at least 40 absentee ballot drop-off boxes for the November election. There will be at least 50 drop-off boxes in D.C.

Cities around the U.S. are expanding their use of absentee ballot drop-off boxes after the U.S. Postal Service warned states last week that, due to mail delays, it couldn’t guarantee all ballots sent through the mail would be received in time to be counted.

Northam’s proposed budget also includes money for police reform; teaching “a more accurate version of Virginia history”; expansion of safe, affordable housing; increased access to high-speed broadband; urgent dam safety; and support for Virginia’s public historically Black colleges and universities.

State lawmakers will consider the proposals during the special General Assembly session set to begin Wednesday afternoon.

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