Guest Commentary, Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Changes in VA Election Laws for Upcoming Election

By David B. Bjerke, Director of Elections for the City of Falls Church

The midterm elections are fast approaching, and you should know about changes in Virginia Election Laws. First the upcoming election will only have one contest: The United States House of Representatives, 8th District. A short but important ballot. Election Day is November 8th, 6am – 7pm at your normal polling place. Very soon, the Virginia Department of Elections will mail every active voter a new Voter Information postcard. Why? Because of redistricting. You will receive an updated postcard informing you which Virginia Districts have changed. In the City of Falls Church, we have a new State Senate District (37) and a new House of Delegates District (13). These new districts will be important in 2023 when those contests will be on the ballot. So, when you receive your new Voter Information postcard, hold it for next year.


There are other changes such as Preregistration of 16 and 17-Year-Olds. Effective October 1, 2022, 16- and 17-year-olds, who will not be 18 by November 8th 2022, may preregister to vote. The preregistered status is distinct from “registered” or “voter.” Pre-registration does not provide the right to vote, but it entitles an otherwise eligible individual to the automatic processing of their voter registration application upon reaching the age of eligibility.


Same Day Registration (SDR) is a new law in Virginia also effective October 1st. However, eligible voters have until Monday, October 17th to register to vote or update their voter registration if they have moved. If an eligible voter misses this October 17th deadline to register or update their registration, then SDR allows a voter to register to vote after the registration deadline and cast a provisional ballot during the early voting period, Tuesday October 18 – Saturday November 5, or on Election Day at the polling place they would otherwise be registered in. A provisional ballot will not be counted as part of Election Night Reporting, but will be considered after Election Day by the Electoral Board during the after-election Canvass. If the voter’s registration application is filled out correctly and the voter is otherwise eligible to be registered, then the voter’s provisional ballot will be counted as part of the Official Results of the election that are certified in the days after Election Day. If an individual who used SDR to cast a provisional ballot is determined to be ineligible to vote at that time, then the application will be denied and the provisional ballot will not be counted. The individual will be notified of the denial and have the chance to register after the election for all future elections. For individuals who need to use SDR to cast a ballot at a polling place on Election Day, it is extremely important the potential voter make certain their address belongs to that polling place ward or precinct. If the voter casts a provisional ballot in a polling place and the voter’s registered address does not belong to that polling place, the voter registration application may be processed and approved but the provisional ballot will be denied. SDR is a useful new law for voters who forgot or were otherwise unable to register or update their voter registration by the deadline, but we still want to encourage eligible voters to register before the deadline.


Lastly, we will report our early and absentee ballots by precinct. Voting during a pandemic has increased our early and absentee voting percentages so that many voters are no longer voting in the polling place on Election Day. All of those ballots were counted in the Central Absentee Precinct (CAP) for a locality. The General Assembly prefers to see election results at the precinct level. Therefore, early and by-mail voters will receive precinct- or ward- specific ballots. Over 7% of City voters are already signed up for permanent by-mail ballots. We will make sure each of them receives their ward-specific ballot. If you are one of the voters, or have already applied for a ballot by mail for the upcoming election, you should receive your ballot no later than October 1st. Contact us if you have not received your ballot by October 1.


Remember that by-mail ballots require a witness signature, and you have a variety of options to return your ballot, including the postage paid return envelope included with your ballot package, the drop box in the parking lot of City Hall, or in-person in our office.
Happy Voting!