By David B. Bjerke
Do you want the campaigns to stop calling you and filling up your mail box? Did you know there is something you can do to reduce those calls and mailings? Vote early. Vote absentee.
All over Virginia, election offices opened for early absentee voting on September 23. The campaigns get daily updates of who votes all the way through Election Day. Once they know you’ve voted, they don’t need to call or mail you anymore. It’s a nice incentive and with 19 valid reasons to vote absentee, if you can’t find a reason, you’re not trying very hard. Do you work in D.C.? Arlington? Fairfax? That’s a reason! If you leave the Little City for any reason, that’s a valid reason to vote absentee. If you think it’s even possible you might leave the City of Falls Church on Election Day, that’s a valid reason.
But will your vote count? Yes! Every vote counts! I have voted absentee every election since 2007. Everyone in my office usually votes absentee. There’s a myth that absentee ballots are only counted if the races are close and we’ve been fighting that myth for years. Our central absentee precinct counts all by-mail and in-person ballots at the same time as the polling places, right after the polls close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8, Election Day.
Another factor in deciding whether to vote early/absentee is lines on Election Day. While the biggest draw for the Presidential General and Special Elections is the electors for President, there is also a House of Representatives race, two proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution, and a local Referendum. Those last three items are long and wordy and many voters don’t know they are on the ballot. Voters will spend several more minutes in the voting booth trying to both read and understand these questions written with a lawyer’s vocabulary and that may lead to longer lines. Avoid the long lines on Election Day by voting early/absentee. Our office is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. We will be closed Columbus Day. However we will be open Saturdays October 29 and November 5, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Please note that the last day to vote in-person absentee is Saturday, November 5 at 5 p.m. We always have voters try to vote the Monday before Election Day when, unfortunately, by law, we only have emergency exceptions available 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
But none of this matters if you’re not properly registered to vote. Go to www.elections.virginia.gov and check your voter registration. You can do it on your smartphone! All you need is your Virginia Driver’s license or identification card and you can register and update. If you don’t have either of those, you can still fill out and print the application and mail it to me or bring it to my office. While you’re checking your registration, you can apply for an absentee ballot to be mailed to you.
The recommended date to request an absentee ballot by mail is right now. Don’t rely on the U.S. Postal Service to be fast so request as soon as possible. Otherwise, the recommended deadline is October 25. The USPS says mail can take three to five days to deliver. Combined, it is a 10-day turnaround to request and cast your ballot. The legal deadline is November 1. But I’ve never seen a ballot requested by the legal deadline make it back to my office by the 7 p.m. cast ballot deadline on Election Day, so waiting until November 1 is not recommended.
Finally, you must have a valid photo ID to vote in-person. The most common form of photo ID is your Virginia Driver’s license, and the address does not need to match because people move all the time and other forms of valid ID do not have any address on them at all. No other state license qualifies, but you can use a passport, work ID if it has your photo and name, student ID if it’s a Virginia school, and even a Metro access card. If you do not have any form of valid photo ID, come to any elections office and have one made for you for free. We will take your picture and your signature, append them to your voter record and your ID will be mailed to you in about a week.
TL/DR: Please check your registration, have a valid photo ID, and vote absentee!
Go to www.elections.virginia.gov on your smartphone to check and update your registration, request an absentee by mail ballot or check for all the valid forms of photo ID. Thank you for your time and attention.
David Bjerke is Director of Elections and General Registrar of Voters for the City of Falls Church.