Restaurants are shutting their doors and Shenandoah County residents are staying inside but life during and after the COVID-19 crisis continues to carry on. Lisa McDonald, the Shenandoah County general registrar, said on Friday that her office is operating at full force for May’s town elections.
During a time of mandated social distancing and bans on gatherings of 10 or more people, McDonald’s office is ready to begin processing absentee ballots, which could have started rolling in as early as Friday.
Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed a bill that will allow no-excuse absentee ballots in all elections but it will not go into effect until November. McDonald said the no-excuse rule has been lifted for the May elections to accommodate the needs of people trying to keep themselves safe.
All voters can request an absentee ballot and as their reason for voting absentee write the code “2A” and record “coronavirus” or “COVID-19,” McDonald said.
“Voters don’t have to worry about ‘oh I’m not declared disabled or anything like that,’” McDonald said. ”They do not have to be tested positive for coronavirus. They are just trying to isolate or socially distance themselves. Anyone who wants to is eligible to vote absentee for this election.”
Voters have always been allowed to vote absentee and had a range of reasons for doing so but this is the first time the state has allowed an all-encompassing reason for anyone to use.
Absentee voting will make navigating election day — May 5 — easier but, McDonald said, there are several deadlines to keep in mind.
To request an absentee ballot, voters must be registered to vote in Virginia and living at their address by Monday, April 13. The deadline to register to vote is always three weeks before an election, McDonald said.
Voters can wait until the last Saturday before the election to request an absentee ballot but McDonald urged everyone to request their ballot sooner rather than later. The process, she said, includes her office processing a request before sending out a packet that the voter has to complete and sign, with a witness, before her office can process the completed application. In the past, voters have missed their chance to vote because her office could not complete the application in time, she said.
McDonald’s office is also open for in-person absentee voting, which has not been closed down by the governor or the commissioner of elections yet.
Voters in Shenandoah County also have the option of curbside voting if they want to bring a completed ballot to the County Government Center.
While McDonald’s office is responsible for managing polling places and counting votes in Shenandoah County, she has no authority over the deadlines set by the state or whether physical polling locations will be operating in May. If any announcements from state leaders come out that would affect those deadlines, McDonald said she expects leaders to include instructions on how to navigate the new timelines.
Whether someone votes in person at a polling location or absentee, McDonald said she wants to ensure everyone that their vote will count.
“Every absentee ballot is counted on election day by a group of election officials here in the office,” McDonald said. “They all are counted. When you see the totals for election results those totals include absentee votes. I vote absentee every election. As does my staff.”
“We want people to vote,” McDonald continued. “We want people to be safe. If they do not feel comfortable going to their polling place they can absentee vote.”
Important dates to remember for May’s elections:
• April 13 - Deadline to register to vote
• April 28 - Last day to request an absentee ballot
• May 2 - Last day to vote absentee (in-person)
• May 5 - Election day (all absentee ballots need to be received by 7 p.m.)