The Virginia Department of Elections announced this week that voters are “strongly encouraged” to vote absentee in the May municipal elections due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The directive will apply locally to the May 5 town council elections in Warrenton, Remington and The Plains.
According to VDE’s website, voters may choose the reason “2A My disability or illness” on their application for an absentee ballot. Alex Ables, the general registrar for Fauquier County, confirmed that any voter otherwise eligible to vote in an election on May 5 can utilize the absentee option, regardless of whether they were actually exposed to the novel coronavirus.
“Voters who choose the absentee option should do so as soon as possible so they can get their ballots in time to return them by mail by Election Day,” said the statement on the VDE website.
Voters must be registered to vote by April 13 in order to be eligible to participate in the May 5 elections. The deadline to request an absentee ballot to be mailed to you is April 28 at 5 p.m. Absentee ballots can be requested online or by mail, phone or fax.
More information about casting an absentee ballot can be found on the VDE website: https://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/absentee-voting.
Ables expressed frustration at what, in his view, has been a lack of guidance from the state election department about how local registrars should handle elections during the health crisis. “Up until this point we’ve had no concrete guidance from the department of elections,” he said.
“It’s a mess,” Ables said of the developing public health situation and its threat to the integrity of upcoming elections, “and it isn’t going to get better between now and May 5. How does the state expect us to conduct an election when people are afraid to come to the polls for fear of exposure [to the virus]?”
Ables cited disruptions to the March 17 presidential primary elections in Florida, where according to news reports, some polling stations did not open. Ables said his understanding was that some registrars did not feel comfortable opening polls and thereby risk exposing the public to the virus. “I can’t say I don’t blame them,” Ables said.
“This is a fluid situation and [VDE] aren’t getting any clear guidance or leadership,” he continued, adding later, “In some respects we are in uncharted territory, but sometimes what you need is direct action. And we need direct action now.”
Ables said he wrote a letter to the state election department suggesting the May 5 election be conducted entirely by mail, but that the absentee provision is so far the only concrete guidance his office has received from VDE.
“They’re basically just telling us, in a roundabout way, that we have to carry on as normal,” he said.