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Opinion/Editorial: Early voting poses choices for Virginians

Opinion/Editorial: Early voting poses choices for Virginians

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Opinion/Editorial: Early voting poses choices for Virginians

{child_byline}The Daily Progress {/child_byline}

Editor’s note: This editorial was updated on Sept. 4.

Want to avoid potentially crowded polling places, but don’t want to trust sending an absentee ballot through the mail service?

You have an unusual — but potentially useful — option: Vote in person, but do so before the Nov. 3 election date.

Virginia is among the states permitting early voting. Starting Sept. 18 and running through Oct. 31, you can go to your local elections office and cast a ballot in advance of Election Day. Some localities also are opening up satellite locations for early voting; check your own city’s or county’s website to see if this is an option for you.

The advantage is obvious: You don’t have to go to the polls with hundreds of other voters while trying to avoid being infected with COVID-19. Although social distancing and other safety protocols will be in place, some people just might not feel comfortable with the traditional option of in-person voting on Election Day.

Nor might they feel comfortable with the other traditional option — the mail-in ballot. Voting by mail has been made easier during the COVID era, to encourage as many people as possible to vote rather than to forgo this responsibility out of fear for their health.

Unfortunately, the reliability of postal delivery has been a long-standing problem — and it’s even more crucial now in this high-stakes presidential election. Can voters trust that their ballots will get through?

Hence the third option: Vote in person, but vote early.

But … how early?

That’s the disadvantage to early voting.

The later that voters wait, the more information about the candidates they will have. Listening to the candidates, watching them, assessing their characters, catching them in any mistakes, reading about their records, evaluating their promises — all are necessary to intelligent voting decisions.

Meanwhile, there’s always the possibility of the fabled October surprise. The term describes a political bombshell — either spontaneous or deliberately arranged by partisans — that drops just before the election and that might strongly influence voters.

If the surprise is legitimate and spontaneous, the added information it supplies could be useful to voters. If it is timed by political partisans — or, worse, staged — deliberately to influence voters without giving them time to fully research the issue, then it is nothing more than outright manipulation that skews voters’ understanding.

Do voters wait to see if an October surprise develops? Or do they not?

Plus, 2020 being the kind of year it is, all sorts of peripheral political questions still are being resolved.

A lawsuit had been filed arguing that two Central Virginia candidates didn’t even have the right to be on the Nov. 3 ballot — Bob Good in the 5th Congressional District and Nick Freitas in the 7th. That lawsuit was just dismissed.

However, at the same time a different lawsuit was filed to keep rapper Kanye West off Virginia’s presidential ballot. A judge quickly ruled that his name should be rejected because of fraudulent activity in the petition process that sought to qualify him for the ballot.

The fact that Mr. West was proposed for the ballot at all is perhaps illustrative of this most bizarre of years.

But the suit itself also demonstrates just how unsettled politics are, and how much is changing even as voters are trying to make their decisions.

Voters are going to have to choose not only for whom to vote, but also how to vote and when to vote. As if we didn’t already have enough to worry about.

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Related to this story

In the ever-changing drama that is Election 2020, COVID-style, add yet another option for how voters can submit their ballots. The General Assembly approved legislation allowing voter registrars to set up special drop boxes to collect absentee ballots.

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