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More changes to ballot options amid COVID

More changes to ballot options amid COVID

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In the ever-changing drama that is Election 2020, COVID-style, add yet another option for how voters can submit their ballots.

Recently, we talked about the added option of voting in advance, but in person, at local election offices or other sites that election officials might establish.

That is in addition to the two traditional methods of Election Day voting in person at your polling place or absentee voting by mail.

Absentee ballot requests in Albemarle County are up by 2,000% this year, local officials report, as voters search for an alternative to going to the polls on Election Day. In Charlottesville, the registrar’s office already is processing about three times as many absentee ballots as usual.

Some new features have been added by Virginia to the absentee voting protocol. Most recently, the General Assembly approved legislation allowing voter registrars to set up special drop boxes to collect absentee ballots — rather like the special sites where voters might be able to vote early and in person.

Under this option, absentee balloters might not need to go to the post office or drop their votes in the mail; they can put their votes into specially designated boxes instead. Extra efforts for collecting absentee ballots are being implemented at a time when — because of COVID-19 — many Virginians are reluctant to congregate in Election Day voting lines, despite the health protocols that will be in place. At the same time, many Virginians also are hesitant to trust their ballots to the federal postal service because of mail slowdowns or fears of slowdowns, whether perceived or accurate. Reliability of mail, in fact, has become a political football in this election year.

A version of that dynamic played out in Richmond when Democrats fast-tracked the drop-box legislation and related features while Republicans objected to certain elements of the new law.

Republicans said they were concerned about committing $2 million for pre-paid postage for absentee ballots that will be sent to voters. This, in a year when state revenues are drastically reduced due to the COVID-induced economic recession.

Republicans also said they were worried about drop-box security. Could the boxes be stolen? The ballots retrieved and tampered with?

Other states already have adopted drop-box laws. Typically, the boxes are either guarded or kept under camera surveillance, The Roanoke Times reported, so if they are interfered with, there might be some hope of catching the criminals.

The actions of other states to adopt drop-box policies also apparently is why some Virginia registrars, after approaching the private companies that supply this equipment, were told that available stock already was allocated elsewhere, The Times reported.

Even if local registrars want to implement drop boxes, might they be unable to acquire them? That would be an ironic — and disappointing — development. We shall soon see if these reported shortages are widespread enough to impact Virginia.

The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress

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