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Students, Albemarle County vouch for early voting amidst pandemic

Students find early voting to be a convenient and reliable way to cast their vote before the Election Day rush

Voter registration in Virginia ends Tuesday, although Virginia’s voter registration website went down until the early afternoon for more than five and a half hours due to a cut cable.
Voter registration in Virginia ends Tuesday, although Virginia’s voter registration website went down until the early afternoon for more than five and a half hours due to a cut cable.

In-person early voting runs through Oct. 31 at the County Office Building for Albemarle County residents and at the City Hall Annex for Charlottesville City residents. The Albemarle County Electoral Board urges residents and students to consider voting early to avoid long poll lines Nov. 3.

Following a website crash during Tuesday's original registration deadline, Virginians now have until 11:59 p.m. Thursday to register to vote, either online or in-person.

Early voting began Sept. 18 in both the County and City, running Monday through Friday. Both voting locations are open the two Saturdays prior to Election Day — Oct. 24 and 31. Open hours and addresses are available on County and City websites.

Third-year Batten student Lyndsay Baker voted early in-person at the City Hall Annex Oct. 1.

“I wanted to vote early, just because I wanted to make sure my ballot was counted,” Baker said.

Arriving at the building around 3:30 p.m., Baker waited half an hour in a socially distanced queue outside and left by 4:10 p.m. Jim Heilman — the Albemarle County Electoral Board Secretary — notes that the line tends to be longer for City voting compared to County voting due to the differences in space size.

According to Heilman, the County has totalled around 7,000 ballots as of Oct. 2 and has sent out more than 18,000 mail-in ballots by request. University housing is in both Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville. Noting a lack of student voter registration compared to previous years, Heilman hopes to raise voter awareness among students and reach 30,000 early votes in total.

Baker estimated around a third to half of other voters she saw were around her age. She recommends other students to vote early as well.

“It’s super convenient,” Baker said. “You can make it work with your schedule and that way it kind of spreads out the crowd too.”

The University Democrats is registering students 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays on the Lawn and Thursdays at O’Hill dining hall. The organization plans to expand their campaign as the registration deadline approaches, according to Jackson Postal, UDems Communications Chair and second-year College student. Instead of providing pre-filled forms, UDems is using QR codes to help in-state students register online. 

College Republicans similarly plan to register student voters. The group has engaged in voter contact this year, calling local residents to ensure that they are prepared to vote and providing information to help if otherwise.

“We just want everyone to make it out to vote,” said Chris Tomlin, College Republicans president and fourth-year College student.

Second-year College student Joy Rinonos has arranged to vote early in-person soon. After hearing many recommendations to vote early, she was persuaded to get her vote counted ahead of time.

“It's not too big of a time commitment,” Rinonos said. “It can get done pretty fast, and it’s pretty important. Especially for this election, so there isn't really a reason why someone shouldn't do it.”

CAR2Vote, a nonpartisan organization providing voting assistance and transportation, will not be giving rides during the pandemic. Instead, they offer socially-distanced help for voters online and by phone at 434-260-1547.

Voter registration in Virginia ends Tuesday, although Virginia’s voter registration website went down until the early afternoon for more than five and a half hours due to a cut cable. Once registered, the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot is Oct. 23.

In-state students can register to vote in-person or online, where they can also apply for a mail-in ballot and view their polling location. Out-of-state students can undergo a similar process through their state’s election site if registered in their home state. Those registered in Virginia can follow the same process as Virginia residents online

HoosVoting provides a step by step guide through the voting process for all University students.

Heilman mentioned a variety of methods that allow voters to safely cast their ballot. Both the County Office Building and City Hall Annex enforce safety guidelines, requiring their workers to wear masks and limiting the number of people allowed inside. Voters undergo the same process as on Election Day, requiring a valid ID or statement of identity to receive a ballot. Curbside voting is also available for those wishing to minimize contact with others, and a drop box is available 24/7 for completed mail-in ballots. The drop box is under video surveillance.

For students in particular, Heilman stressed the importance of checking registration. As a common mistake, he pointed to students forgetting to update their place of residence. Additionally, when applying for an Over 21 driver’s license, students may accidentally sign up to change their registration as well. If voting in the Charlottesville area, students should check whether they are registered in the City of Charlottesville or Albemarle County, which are separate entities.

Student housing is split between the City and the County, though most On-Grounds residences vote in the County. Students voting locally can find their voting locations for early and Election Day voting, their mail-in ballot drop-off locations, and open hours by entering their address online at the Virginia Department of Elections site under the header “Casting a Ballot.” 

Early voting helps to catch registration mistakes early, Heilman says, and allows time to fix discrepancies before Oct. 13. Students can change their registration online if needed, or learn from poll workers on site where they should go to vote.

Considering the expected large number of votes being cast this year, Tomlin and Baker both feel more assured voting early in-person compared to voting by mail, pointing out how going in-person can take care of the matter immediately.

Tomlin planned on returning to Amherst County, Va. to vote early once the University’s travel restrictions were lifted. Now that the restrictions have been extended to Oct. 21, he hopes to contact the University’s Dean of Students, Allen Groves, and ask that there be an exception for travelling to vote. Usually a volunteer on Election Day, he is accustomed to voting early — however, he feels it may not be the choice for everyone.

“Vote however you're comfortable,” Tomlin said. “It's about ... expressing your voice.”

The Virginia Department of Elections website provides more information on how to vote, including a page specifically for college students on residency requirements for voter registration and absentee ballot privileges.