The Fauquier Office of the General Registrar and electoral board are looking for help from the state and county to help handle an expected surge in early voters in 2020, when a one-week “no excuse” voting period will allow people to vote early without giving a reason.
The one-week period ends on the Saturday before Election Day. Voters can still vote absentee with a reason, as they do now during the 45 days before the election.
Registrar Alex Ables said the Virginia General Assembly needs to authorize funds to purchase voting equipment, meet technology and networking needs and help cover the cost of securing sites where voting equipment will be in place for days at a time.
He explained the scope of the task during a work session with county supervisors on Sept. 12.
Ables is looking for the county’s help finding satellite voting locations, since the registrar’s office on Waterloo Road in Warrenton can’t handle the number of early voters that are expected.
A crush of absentee voters for the 2016 general election “shut down Waterloo Road and our parking lot,” Ables said.
Satellite locations won’t be needed for special and town elections and primaries but Ables said the state needs to set uniform standards for the satellite sites, including minimum requirements for facilities, parking and staffing. There will also have to be safeguards so someone can’t vote in multiple satellite locations.
Ables asked the supervisors to talk to the state legislators representing Fauquier County to get their help in preparing for the 2020 change to “no excuse” voting.
Ables said the burden would also be eased if the state allows early voting by mail during the entire 45 days of the absentee voting period.
He suggested using as satellite voting locations the Marshall Community Center, the old depot at the Fauquier public library in Bealeton and unspecified locations at Vint Hill and in Warrenton in order to make it convenient for voters.
The Marshall Community Center would need work to make it disabled-access compliant. Other programs there may have to be reduced during the early voting period.
Access to facilities will be needed for two and a half weeks, including time for set up and take down.
There will be staffing, training and storage needs, said Ables, who didn’t put a cost figure on the no excuse preparation needs.
No excuse voting will go into effect for the November 2020 general election when the presidency is on the ballot. If early voting had been in place in the latest presidential election year in 2016 and 20 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot early, that percentage translates to 7,625 voters, Able said. The same percentage would have yielded 4,834 voters in 2017 when Virginia voters elected a governor. If the percentage of early voters increases, the number of voters go up as well, according to estimates Ables supplied to the supervisors.
He said a sampling of states already allowing early voting saw 52 to 65 percent of registered voters voting in-person early.
Scott District Supervisor Holder Trumbo said that a single larger site for in-person would reduce the cost if there’s no requirement to have multiple dispersed sites, though he said he realized some voters would have to travel farther.
Deputy County Administrator Katie Heritage provided supervisors with additional information, including a suggestion that the office space at 98 Alexandria Pike in Warrenton that served as an office during the property reassessment process could be used as a voting site. At Vint Hill, the back portion of the building formerly used by the Economic Development Authority could be used as a satellite site.
In checking with other counties about no excuse voting preparations, she said that Culpeper County doesn’t plan to buy additional equipment, add staff or remote voting sites but will use its main library for the presidential election. August and Hanover counties have no plans to expand their main voting sites, add remote sites or staff or buy additional equipment. Madison County may expand or change its main voting site and will add staff. Frederick County will buy additional voting equipment but not add remote sites or staff. York County plans to use a larger main office and add one remote site plus buy additional equipment and add staff. Albemarle County will buy equipment and add staff and hasn’t decided about remote sites. Rockingham County hasn’t decided what to do.
No action was taken by the Fauquier supervisors. Ables urged them to reach out to the state legislators for their help.
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