As the Nov. 3 deadline to return an absentee ballot for Virginia approaches, the Albemarle County Election Board is preparing students, both in and out of state, for voting absentee due to the prevalence of COVID-19.
Absentee ballots can either be mailed to a designated election office or dropped off at its corresponding polling place. In order to request an absentee ballot, a voter must be registered to vote in their state of residence.
Jim Heilman, secretary of the Albemarle County Election Board, said that his best advice for voting absentee is not to wait until the last minute to actually send in the ballot.
According to Heilman, the most common mistake voters make when voting absentee is that even though a witness is not needed to sign the ballot this year due to COVID-19, people still forget to sign the back of the ballot’s envelope themselves.
“The biggest mistake is people not signing it,” Heilman said. “We do have a process — this is brand new — we call it the curing process, where if we have your phone number or email address, we will get in touch with you and say, 'Hey, you forgot to do this,' and then we tell people how they can fix it so that their ballot will count.”
First-year College student Casey Robinson voted absentee in Fairfax County this year after voting in-person last year.
“I thought the process was pretty easy, and the instructions were simple enough to follow,” Robinson said. “I would just say to have somebody else check your ballot before you send it to double-check that everything is completed.”
Another common absentee voter mishap is that students often are unaware of the difference between Charlottesville as a City and Albemarle as a County — if students choose to drop off their absentee ballot, they must do so at the correct precinct depending on which county they are registered in.
Each are different political entities with different polling places and election offices. While students living in dorms technically reside in Albemarle, many students are located in Charlottesville. The return address on Envelope B, which comes with the ballot, lists the correct election office to drop it off at.
The aforementioned issues, among other mistakes such as a failure to use stamps correctly, writing incorrect information on the ballot or dropping the ballot off at the wrong election office, will result in an invalidation of the ballot. If the ballot is invalidated, the election office of the county in question, via the curing process, will contact the voter to let them know what is incorrect or missing on the ballot.
If voters wish to drop off their absentee ballot in-person, they can do so via a dropbox outside of an election office or City/County precinct up until Election Day. There is a dropbox for Albemarle County registered ballots at 1600 5th Street, and there will also be one at Albemarle High School from 8-11 a.m. on Oct. 26, 28 and 30 and from 2-5 p.m. on Oct. 27 and 29. Charlottesville ballots can be dropped off in-person via a dropbox located outside the Voter Registration office every day until 7 p.m. until Nov. 3, as well as at all polling locations on election day.
For out-of-state students and those who don’t have time to drop the absentee ballot off, ballots can be mailed by Nov. 3 in Virginia based on the return address that comes with the envelope.
Despite concerns over the reliability of the United States Postal Service this year, Heilman said that he doesn’t have any concerns about how the USPS will handle the influx of absentee ballots this year.
“We are very trusting of the USPS,” Heilman said. “So far, the US Postal Service has come through in great kindness for us, and we're not seeing any situations where a ballot is postmarked three weeks ago, and then it finally gets to us.”
The deadline to request an absentee ballot was Oct. 23 at 5 p.m — for those who didn’t request an absentee ballot, in-person voting on Election Day from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. is still an option.
A previous version of this article misstated that three-fourths of the University lies in Charlottesville. The article has been updated to reflect that while dorm residents reside in both Albemarle, many off-Grounds and upperclassmen student housing reside in Albemarle County.