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June Primary: Pandemic Safety Measures And Voting

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Virginia will hold a primary on Tuesday, with mostly Congressional candidates on the ballot. Gov. Ralph Northam initially postponed the voting day from June 9 to June 23 because of the pandemic. Now, the state’s Department of Elections has issued guidelines for localities to implement increased safety measures and procedures in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Volunteers with the Virginia Department of Health and Medical Reserve Corps will be present at polling places to oversee proper sanitation. 

The Department of Elections has also supplied registrars’ offices across the state with personal protective equipment, cleaning products and, in select localities, plexiglass shields to help keep election officers and voters safe on Election Day. Other safety measures the department has laid out include single-use pens and folders for voters. 

Allison Robbins is a registrar in Wise County and heads the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia. She said polling places received the hand sanitizer and protective equipment they requested from the state, addressing concerns she had earlier in the pandemic.

“You know, we would ask that everyone maintain safe distance between each other and that people be considerate of each other,” Robbins said. “If they can wear a mask, we would ask that they do wear a mask.” 

But while Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said wearing masks is encouraged, voters won’t be turned away for not having them — despite the governor’s mandatory order requiring masks at indoor public spaces. 

“We can certainly set up the polling place and ensure the safety of all the voters and the election officers by enforcing social distancing,” Piper said during a briefing with reporters last week. “However, the right to vote is an inherent one.”

Polling places will be open from 6 a.m until 7 p.m. on June 23, although voters are encouraged to check that with their local registrar. Piper added that curbside voting will be available to anyone showing signs of an illness and that, since polling places will enforce the six-feet apart rule, lines may look long. 

Piper said there has been a push within the department to encourage absentee voting.

Virginia law currently requires voters to provide one of 20 reasons to request an absentee ballot. Voters won’t need an excuse starting July 1, when a new law takes effect that was passed by the General Assembly this year. 

In response to the pandemic, the state is letting voters use “disability or illness” as the reason on their absentee ballot application. 

As of Friday morning, data from the elections department shows that it’s received 167,438 more absentee ballot requests this year than it did in 2016. Piper said the department has been processing absentee ballots as they come in, in an effort to ensure smoother processing on the day of the June Primary. 

The last day to vote absentee in-person is Saturday. Absentee ballots must be submitted to the local registrar’s office no later than 7 p.m. on June 23. 

Despite the Juneteenth holiday Friday, the Richmond General Registrar’s office will be open for in-person absentee voting. 

On Monday only, the registrar will also offer a curbside drop off option for absentee ballots. The drop off station will be positioned at the 9th Street side of City Hall from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Richmond elections officials said returning ballots directly to City Hall doesn’t require a wait or paperwork. Adding that voters would only be permitted to drop their own ballot off. 

Voters will need to show photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Accepted means of identification include state-issued driver’s licenses, student ID cards and U.S. passports. While the General Assembly repealed that requirement last session, the law doesn’t go into effect until July 1st.

Individuals who don’t have photo ID on Election Day are encouraged to cast their votes by provisional ballots. However, for those votes to count, residents must return to their local registrars’ offices with photo ID by noon on Friday, June 26. 

Sara McCloskey, Ben Paviour and Ian Stewart contributed to this reporting.