Loudoun County Registrar Judy Brown will brief the Board of Supervisors on voting this November amid public health concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic and new ways to cast ballots.
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said she has been inundated with questions about voting, and asked Brown to give the board a full report. They will get that report at their first meeting back from their August recess, Sept. 1.
“It is my goal that every Loudoun voter is assured that their vote will be counted,” Randall said.
Counting every vote, after all, is Brown’s job.
So far, unless the General Assembly approves new ways to receive ballots, such as ballot drop-boxes, all the voting methods available to Loudouners have been done before. The main difference this year: because of the pandemic, all voters are eligible to vote absentee.
And despite theories floated by some politicians, there is little evidence that the U.S. has a problem with voter fraud. In fact, this year voters may face the opposite problem to fraudulent ballots—making sure they complete all the steps to ensure their genuine ballots are accepted.
The Office of Elections has already had experience operating during the pandemic, fielding both Democratic and Republican primaries and several town elections earlier this year. But the November election will present a bigger challenge, with many more people expected to vote, and many more expected to cast absentee ballots early either in-person or by mail.
“I don’t think that as many people have voted by absentee ballot, and so for a lot of people, it’s their first time doing it, and I think that that’s where people kind of start having issues,” Brown said.
So far, she said, her office has already seen more than 30,000 applications for absentee ballots to be mailed to voters. The office will start mailing those out on Sept. 18.
However, more than 1,000 applications came in without the last four digits of the voter’s Social Security Number being listed. Those voters will be getting a letter in the mail informing them of the error and prompting them to complete the application.
“That concerns me, because they’ve done it the first time, but of course we have to have a complete application just to make sure on our part that we know it is the individual that is requesting that ballot, and everything is good to go,” Brown said.
It’s only one mistake people make when filling out their paperwork. Another common mistake, she said: students away at college, or people who are relocating, putting down a different return address than the address where they are registered to vote. Brown said election officials have tried to clarify with this year’s absentee ballot that those have to match.
This year, among the other election rules the General Assembly is considering such as allowing ballot drop-boxes, the legislature is working on a requirement that registrars notify voters when there is an error on their ballots so that they can try to fix them.
Election officers are encouraging voters to decide early on if they are going to vote absentee and then to get their application in early too, so they have time to correct any errors and make sure their vote is counted. And while it’s possible to switch things up—for example, to request a mailed ballot, but bring it to a polling place on Election Day and exchange it for an in-person ballot—Brown said it’s better to have a plan and stick to it.
“There are people doing this for the very first time, and the most important thing is for there to be checks and balances in place to help make sure that people’s ballots can be counted,” Brown said. “… It’s not fun to have to tell someone that their ballot has been rejected for something silly.”
This year, election officials will be accepting mailed ballots until the Friday after Election Day, as long as they were postmarked on or before Nov. 3. Depending on how many people mail their ballots and how late they wait to do it, that could mean a delay in getting some results. However, Brown said her office expects to report results of early voting and mail-in ballots up to that point along with in-person voting results on Election Day. This year, they will also be reporting some additional information such as what percentage of absentee ballots have been returned, which could give election watchers a sense of how many ballots may yet to be counted after Tuesday night.
She said she hopes to have final results by Friday evening after the election or Monday.
Supervisor meet at 5 p.m. Sept. 1. Their meetings are broadcast live on Comcast Government Channel 23, Open Band Channel 40, and Verizon FiOS Channel 40, as well as online at loudoun.gov/meetings.
Absentee Applications Open
Loudoun County election officials have encouraged voters to apply online through the Virginia Department of Elections for their ballots at vote.elections.virginia.gov. The deadline to request a ballot be mailed is Oct. 23 at 5 p.m. Ballots will not be mailed until Sept. 18, but voters may apply for one now. Ballots come with instructions on how to complete them. A completed mailed ballot must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3 to be counted. Voters can check the status of their ballot—including whether it was rejected—at vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation.
So far there are three ways to vote in Loudoun: at home by mail, voting early in person, or voting on Election Day at a polling place.
Voting early in person is available at the Office of Elections in Leesburg beginning Sept. 18, with extended hours and additional early voting sites opening Saturday, Oct. 17. Social distancing measures will be in place at all locations, face coverings are required when entering county facilities, and curbside voting is available for individuals who have mobility issues. The last day to vote early in person is Saturday, Oct. 31.
And voting in person on election day continues as normal, including curbside voting, with social distancing measures in place and face coverings required inside buildings. Election officials are also cooperating with the Loudoun County Medical Reserve Corps to ensure voting in person is as safe as possible in the pandemic.
The deadline to register to vote or update your information is Tuesday, Oct. 13. Go to loudoun.gov/novemberelection for more information about voting in the November general election in Loudoun.