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Absentee voting begins

Election deadlines

* Registration by Oct. 15 * Last day to vote absentee ballot by mail Oct. 30 * Last day to vote absentee in person Nov. 3

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Voter registrars in the region say absentee voting turnout appeared mixed as the clock ticks down to Election Day.

The state kicked off absentee voting Friday with local voter registrars offices sending out ballots to those people who filed requests. Registrars sent ballots by mail and email to those individuals who qualified to vote absentee. Registrars also began seeing voters in person wishing to file absentee ballots.

"We've been very active," said Carol Tobin, general registrar for Warren County. "We've had a very good turnout. Of course it's in the early days."

Warren County issued 154 absentee ballots on Friday -- four in-person and the rest by mail, according to Tobin. By Tuesday afternoon, the numbers had increased to 199 applications total, including 19 voters in person. By comparison, Warren County issued approximately 133 absentee ballots in 2008, Tobin said.

"It's always busier in a presidential [election] year because there are people who only vote in presidential years," Tobin said.

However, Shenandoah County General Registrar Lisa McDonald noted her office has seen lower turnout for absentee ballots, though that doesn't necessarily mean fewer voters at the polls. McDonald reported her office issued 162 absentee ballots by mail or by email to overseas voters and 27 in person. Those numbers marked a decrease from this time for the last presidential election four years ago, when the county issued 248 absentee ballots and 34 in person. Registrars such as McDonald usually look at the voter turnout and absentee ballots cast in previous years to gauge the upcoming election traffic.

Frederick County General Registrar Rick Miller reported his office as of Monday sent absentee ballots by mail to 343 voters; 66 ballots by email to individuals who qualified as uniformed and overseas; and 15 in-person voters.

Registrars credited the Virginia Board of Elections and its "Are you elections ready?" campaign to alert the public about the need to check their voter registration status and to make sure they have the proper information on file by Nov. 6. The registrars noted that the state elections agency has taken strides to make sure the rolls are accurate and will provide registered voters with new registraton cards.

Voters can give a wide range of reasons for why they need to cast an absentee ballot, Tobin said. However, a voter can't qualify "just because you don't want to go to the polls."

But a person who suffers from a health or mobility issue or can't stand for long periods of time can qualify for an absentee ballot under the state guidelines.

Registrars offices and the Board of Elections website offer a long list of reasons which would allow a person to qualify to vote by absentee ballot. However, as Tobin reminded voters, the list does not include a lack of transportation to the polls. But people can qualify if they plan to be on vacation on Election Day and out of the city or county in which they are registered. The list also includes members of the military on active duty or individuals who live outside the United States temporarily or their spouse. The absentee ballot rules extend to those people unable to go to the polls because of a disability, illness or pregnancy. Election officials say disability can include a mobility issue which may require the use of a walker, even though polling locations must allow access by the handicapped. The regulations also allow absentee voting for anyone awaiting trial or convicted of a misdemeanor crime provided their release date falls on or after the third day before the election.

Visit www.sbe.virginia.gov, the local registrar's office websites or call the agencies for more information. State and local websites feature information on preparing for the election, checking registration and on how to request an absentee ballot. Call the Warren County registrar at 635-4372; Shenandoah County at 459-6159; Frederick County at 665-5660; Winchester at 545-7910.

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