Local Commentary

Voting By Mail Is Safest Option During Virus Pandemic

By David B. Bjerke

Risk mitigation. Elections are important but most of the public have no idea what it takes to run an election. Elections are event management and since the event cannot be moved to a different date without passing a new law, elections are also emergency management. We must have contingency plans for every foreseeable issue. If a derecho comes through on Election Day, we have Public Works standing by with generators to keep our polling places powered even though we have battery backups on all our equipment. If there is an earthquake, the election officers have directions to resume operations outside the building. Basically, we are in the business of risk mitigation.

Being in a pandemic with social distancing and mask requirements have thrown another wrench into the world’s plans and that includes those of us who run elections. We want to lower the risk that any registered voter has contagion exposure AND we want to increase the chance that every registered voter’s ballot is counted. What accomplishes both? Vote by mail.

But mail-in voting is a misnomer. Really what we are advocating is voting at home. While our office will use the USPS to mail you your ballots beginning in mid-September, it is up to you how those ballots get back to our office. The law requires the voter to personally deliver their ballot if not using a commercial service (USPS, UPS, FedEx, Uber? Lyft?). So you can walk your by-mail ballot to our office at your convenience when you’re ready to cast it. We will also have some type of mailbox for you to drop your ballot in outside City Hall, but we are waiting on guidance from the state, possibly an Attorney General’s opinion, to see exactly what that looks like.

However, I want you to know that we have been working with the USPS. Both outgoing and incoming ballots will be barcoded so they can be tracked in the mail. We will give you a link to a tool that will track those ballots and it is on our website at www.fallschurchva.gov/vote.

These barcodes are called Intelligent Mail Barcodes and they don’t just help track, but they help the USPS know exactly where to deliver the mail. And these ballot envelopes feature a special insignia to further help the USPS workers recognize that these are a priority.

For the purposes of risk mitigation, the best way you can vote is to go online, right now, to the Virginia Department of Election’s Citizen Portal website: https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation and use your Virginia DMV ID (driver’s license, learners permit, etc) to request your ballot be delivered to you at home.

Don’t have a DMV ID? Then print the application, fill it out, sign it and email it to vote@fallschurchva.gov or mail it to our office. If we receive your absentee by-mail ballot application by September 1st, we will mail it in the first mailing in mid-September so that you receive it as early as possible. If you apply before September and don’t receive your ballot by October 1st, contact us. We want to reduce the risk that you don’t receive your ballot.
After you cast your ballot, whether you send it back to USPS, use our mailbox, or bring it to our office in person, you can go back to the Virginia Department of Election’s Citizen Portal and check the status of your ballot.

We’ll update your voter record to reflect that your ballot was returned and you can be certain that your ballot will be counted no matter what risks develop between now and the deadline of Election Day.

If you still want to vote in-person, we recommend you take advantage of our new early voting law. Any registered voter can vote in-person early just because you want to, no form required. It’s just like Election Day, just early. We start in-person early voting on September 18, 2020. In fact, I suggest that if you have not applied for a by-mail ballot by September 18, for risk mitigation purposes, vote early in our office. This way you ensure that your ballot will count, we reduce the risk of too many voters on one day spreading contagion, and our office does not risk getting over burdened with both in-person early voting and absentee by-mail applications.

The more voters who take advantage of either by-mail voting at home or early in-person voting, the more we help those voters who require access to a polling place on Election Day and the more we reduce risks for election

officers who have the courage to serve on Election Day.Some of these voters have their own risks and issues, and if we can keep the total population of Election Day voters to a minimum, without depressing turnout, the better we will have mitigated risks for all voters during a pandemic, and the greater chance every voter’s ballot will count.

David B. Bjerke is the Director of Elections & General Registrar of Voters,
City of Falls Church Office of Voter Registration & Elections: 300 Park Ave., Room 206C , Falls Church, VA 22046 Office: 703-248-5085 (TTY 771);
Cell: 571 238-4190; Fax: 703-248-5204 Office: vote@fallschurchva.gov; Direct: dbjerke@fallschurchva.gov