On November 3, we will be voting for the offices of U.S. President, U.S. Senator, and U.S. House of Representatives, plus two proposed Virginia Constitutional Amendment questions dealing with how redistricting will be carried out in the future (for the text of both visit www.elections.virginia.gov/proposed-constitutional-amendment-2020).
With the coronavirus pandemic still present, many people are uncomfortable voting in person on November 3 at potentially crowded polling locations. Jake Washburne, Albemarle County General Registrar and Director of Elections, and his staff are working hard to provide safe and convenient alternatives. All 30 county polling places will be open for voting on November 3.
There are three ways you can vote in the 2020 election: Vote in person on November 3; vote by mail, either via the post office or by walk-in/dropbox; or vote early in person at the County Office Building Annex at 1600 5th St.
“Mail-in voting” and “absentee voting” are the same thing. An absentee ballot is a vote cast by someone who is unable or unwilling to attend the official polling station to which they are assigned, and is usually sent by mail. As of July 1, no excuse is necessary to cast an absentee ballot, and this year no witness is required when signing your ballot.
“We are moving away from ‘absentee’ and calling it ‘absentee by mail’ or simply ‘mail-in’ voting for clarity,” said Clarice Schermerhorn, Albemarle County Elections Manager.
To Vote by Mail, request a ballot online at vote.elections.virginia.gov or in writing sent to 435 Merchant Walk Square, Suite 300 / PMB 160 / Charlottesville, VA 22902. You can also call 434-972-4173 and the Registrar’s staff will send you a ballot application. Your request must be received by 5 p.m. on October 23. The Office of Elections will begin mailing out ballots starting September 18, with prepaid postage on the return envelopes. It is recommended to complete your ballot and mail it back as soon as possible after receiving it. Mailed ballots that are postmarked by November 3 must be received no later than noon on Friday, Nov. 6. You may also carry your mail-in ballot in person to the Office of Elections at the County Office Building (COB) Annex at 1600 5th St. by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. Based on legislation approved on August 28 by the Virginia General Assembly, there will be a drop box in the COB Annex vestibule available 24/7.
Albemarle County has a voting population of over 80,000. As of August 26, more than 12,000 voters—or 15%—have requested mail-in ballots; this compares with a mere 703 applications by this date in 2016. “This number is going up by about 1,000 per day,” said Schermerhorn. “We’ve never seen anything like it.” The Office of Elections has hired new staff to handle this increase as well as an expected increase in early voting, expanding to six regular plus six temporary election officials in the office, and 50-60 additional workers at both early and on-time polling locations.
This year you will be able to track your ballot both coming and going to the Office of Elections. Once you request a mail-in ballot, you can download the new Ballot Scout app, enter your name and address, and see when the ballot was mailed to you and where it is in the mail system. After you complete your ballot and mail it back, you can use the Citizen Portal at vote.elections.virginia.gov to verify that it was received and recorded.
On August 28, the Virginia General Assembly approved legislation allowing the use of drop boxes or other staffed ballot collection systems, where voters can return their mail-in ballots in person as easily as dropping them into a mailbox. In addition to the drop box planned in the COB Annex vestibule that will be available 24/7, the County may also establish popup locations in high-population areas—including Crozet—during the last two weeks before the election, where sworn election officials will be available to receive your ballot. State funding was also approved to provide pre-paid postage to return your ballot.
Early Voting will be available Monday through Friday starting September 18 and continuing through October 31, with additional Saturday hours on October 24 and 31. No excuse or special application is required. Early voting will take place in Room A of the County Office Building Annex at 1600 5th St. (south of the I-64 exit). Poll workers will be wearing masks or face shields, and voters are asked to wear masks as well. Masks will be provided for those who don’t have them.
Your Voting Options for the 2020 Election
• Vote in person at your regular polling place on Nov. 3, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDC protocols will be in place with frequent sanitizing. Photo IDs are no longer required; your voter registration card, employee card, or student ID are sufficient. But of course your driver’s license or other photo ID still works as well.
• Vote by mail by requesting a ballot online at vote.elections.virginia.gov or in writing by sending an application to 435 Merchant Walk Square, Suite 300 / PMB 160 / Charlottesville, VA 22902 (call 972-4173 to get an application sent to you). Your request must be received by 5 p.m. on October 23. Mailed ballots must be received by noon on Friday, Nov. 6. No excuse is required to vote by mail, and no witness is required when you sign your ballot. Alternatively, deliver your mail-in ballot to the Registrar’s office by hand no later than 7 pm on Nov. 3. There will be a drop box available 24/7 in the COB Annex vestibule. Popup locations around the County during the last two weeks before the election are also being considered. Check vote.elections.virginia.gov for updates.
• Vote early in person at the Albemarle County Office Building (COB) Annex at 1600 5th Street from Friday, September 18 to Saturday, October 31 as well as Saturday, Oct. 24. Hours are:
- Mon-Wed-Fri 8:30 am – 5 pm
- Tues 7 am – 5 pm
- Thurs 8:30 am – 7 pm
- Sat Oct. 24 and 31: 9 am – 5 pm