Here’s what you need to know about absentee voting


Photo courtesy of Pete Forsyth

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many voters are opting to vote absentee rather than risk exposure by voting in person on Election Day. Absentee voting isn’t a new concept, but many voters will be doing it for the first time because of the pandemic. Here’s what you need to know about absentee voting in Virginia.

Should I vote absentee?

In the past, absentee voting was mainly used when voters couldn’t get to the polls on Election Day or had some other extenuating circumstance that allowed them to vote absentee. Recently, Virginia has changed its laws to allow for no-excuse absentee voting, meaning anyone can request an absentee ballot without having to provide a reason.

Voters have two choices when voting absentee: in person and by mail. If you or someone close to you has a medical condition that makes virus exposure especially risky, voting by mail may be the best option for you. If you are worried about exposure but are not in an “at risk” category, voting absentee in person may be a better option. Instead of mailing in your absentee ballot, you fill one out in person at a polling place before Election Day. In-person absentee voting locations will probably be less crowded than voting locations on Election Day. 

Ultimately, choosing whether and how to vote absentee is up to you, and you should decide to vote through whichever method you think is best.

When should I vote absentee?

Absentee voting starts on Sept. 18. If you are voting by mail, then make sure to request and complete your ballot as soon as possible to allow it the maximum time to be processed. The deadline for requesting mail-in ballots is Oct. 23 and they must be postmarked by Election Day (Nov. 3) to count.

If you are voting in-person absentee, the deadline is Oct. 31. Each locality has its own in-person voting locations, so make sure to find out where those are in your area. Many localities are expanding voting locations because of the pandemic. Fairfax County will have 14 locations in anticipation of high turnout.

Is absentee voting secure?

There has been talk of whether voting by mail is secure. Even the president has claimed that voting by mail increased voter fraud. Despite this, studies have shown that cases of voter fraud in the United States are rare. The largest issue with mail-in ballots is that they get rejected at higher rates than in-person ballots. Nationwide in 2016, around one percent of returned mail-in ballots were rejected — with some states reporting that number as high as five percent. This is because problems with mail-in ballots are much harder to resolve than in-person ones. There is no station chief to help solve an issue or let you cast a provisional ballot with mail-in voting. 

One of the ways states have tried to solve this problem is to add a tracker to let voters see the status of their ballots, so that if there is a problem, it can be corrected before the deadline.

With Labor Day behind us, the 2020 presidential election is in the home stretch. It is vital that Mason students register to vote and inform themselves on their voting options for the fall. If you are not currently registered to vote and are a Virginia resident, you can register at the Virginia Department of Elections website.