In a recent briefing, Governor Ralph Northam said, “no one should have to choose between their health and voting.” Yet, there is no shortage of concerns about how we participate in an election against the backdrop of a pandemic that would surely see voter turnout significantly suppressed, especially in dense urban areas and among vulnerable populations. Everything from how we vote to when we vote is now in question.
Virginia has 5.6 million registered voters (as of 2019, per the Department of Elections). On April 11, 2020, Governor Northam approved Virginia General Assembly bill, HB 1 – Absentee voting; no excuse required. It allows registered Virginia voters to cast a ballot without having to give an excuse, in person or by mail up to 45 days before the election. It also made the November election a state holiday and removed the requirement that voters show a photo ID.
However, some would say that isn’t enough and believe it would be more effective to follow the practices of other states where voting by mail is the default. In Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington, ballots are automatically mailed to registered voters, but they can choose to cast a ballot at an in-person voting center during the early voting period or on Election Day.
Governor Northam also issued two executive orders in response to the threat posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19):
- Executive Order #59 – Postpones the May 5, 2020 general and special elections to May 19, 2020
- Executive Order #56 – Postpones the June 9, 2020 primary election to June 23, 2020.
If you are not yet registered to vote, we encourage you to take advantage of online voter registration by going to https://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/how-to-register/.
Additionally, we need our federal lawmakers to act now to fund a vote-by-mail transition, and state election officials must begin making plans to implement it. We don’t yet know what guidelines will be in place by November, but we should work to have the tools provided now so that every eligible voter can safely cast a ballot. Providing ways for people to exercise their constitutional rights without having to show up in person is something that should be on the minds of all election administrators.
It is vital that our legislators take steps to protect the health and safety of Virginians while ensuring that citizens can make their voices heard in a safe, fair and uniform manner. We encourage you to contact your legislators and ask them to ensure that as many voters as possible will still be able to exercise their constitutional rights without risking their safety and well-being.
Send an email to your representatives in Congress and Senate:
Email Congresswoman Elaine Luria
Email Congressman A. Donald McEachin