We are in the midst of a global health crisis. Lives are at stake, and as government officials respond with decisive action, they must also preserve what is most fundamental to our democracy: the right to vote. The ACLU of Virginia is working to ensure that voting in all 2020 elections can occur safely and without disenfranchising any eligible voters. Here are three major steps we believe Virginia should take:
- Safely expand access to voting by mail.
- Ensure fairness in returning and counting absentee ballots.
- Maintain in-person polling locations.
We also want to make sure that you know your rights and how you can vote while practice social distancing. For many, the best way to vote while safeguarding your health during this time may be to vote absentee by mail. In Virginia, voters may receive and cast an absentee ballot after providing a valid excuse. In the 2020 General Assembly session, lawmakers passed House Bill 1 to allow no-excuse absentee voting. This law is expected to be signed by Gov. Ralph Northam and go into effect on July 1. We're asking the administration to add an emergency clause to HB 1 that would begin implementation immediately, eliminating our excuse-based absentee voting system so that all voters can vote by mail regardless of having a valid excuse. Until then, here's what you should know about voting in Virginia.
The Virginia Department of Elections encourages voters to protect their health during COVID-19 outbreak. Voting absentee in the coming local May elections is strongly encouraged. Voters may choose reason "2A My disability or illness" for absentee voting in the May 2020 elections due to COVID-19. Voters who choose the absentee option should do so as soon as possible so they can get their ballots in time to return them by mail by Election Day. You can request an absentee ballot to be mailed to you here or learn more about the process at the Virginia Department of Elections' website. For the dates and deadlines of all upcoming elections, check this link.
Please note: We understand that there are still several hurdles to voting absentee in Virginia, especially for historically marginalized groups and people with disabilities. We are working with Virginia officials to safely expand access to voting by mail by:
- eliminating unnecesary requirements for absentee voting, such as the witness requirement;
- making mail ballots safe and more accessible by providing self-sealing envelopes, ballots in multiple languages, and electronic ballots for voters with disabilities; and
- relaxing restrictions on who can return ballots so that third parties can return or pick up ballots on your behalf
We'll keep you posted on this page and on our social media regarding any changes to Virginia's voting laws. Stay tuned and share this resource with your friends and family!
Voting Absentee from Jails
Under Virginia Law, if you are in jail you can vote as long as you:
- Are a citizen of the United States;
- Are registered to vote in Virginia;
- Are at least 18 years old on or before the Nov. 3 elections;
- Are being detained pre-trial or serving time on a misdemeanor;
- Have not been convicted of a felony in Virginia; or
- Have had civil rights restored by the governor if you have prior felony convictions.
If you checked all the boxes above, you can vote! Here's how.
While we encourage everyone to vote absentee by mail, in-person polling locations should remain an option to ensure ballot access for all eligible voters. It's imperative that Virginia officials:
- ensure that polling places are sanitized and comply with social distancing recommendations;
- prioritize in-person polling locations where they are most needed and ensure the safety of poll workers;
- offer early voting opportunities, including nights and weekends to spread out in-person voting activity; and
- consider visual and language accessibility and ensure ADA-accessible voting machines are available at in-person voting locations.
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and we should be able to exercise this hard-won right while protecting ourselves and our communities. If you have any questions or concerns about voting rights during the COVID-19 pandemic, email us at email@example.com or leave a message at (804) 803-3566.