The Virginia Department of Elections says voters will be allowed and encouraged to cast ballots by mail in May’s municipal elections in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
State law requires voters to have a excuse in order to cast an absentee ballot, but officials have determined that the coronavirus outbreak qualifies as a valid reason for everyone. The elections department says voters are “strongly encouraged” to request an absentee ballot under the disability or illness exemption.
“Localities that have May elections should encourage voters to apply online for an absentee ballot,” Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said in a guidance email sent to local registrars Monday. “They may use reason code 2A due to COVID-19.”
The 2A reason code covers disability or illness and does not require any supporting documentation.
The guidance did not offer specific recommendations on how to handle in-person voting, but the memo suggested curbside voting as an option for localities whose election offices are closed to the public.
“Just like everybody else in government, we’re all kind of navigating something that is completely unprecedented,” Piper said in a brief phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “We’re being careful to understand what’s within our power and authority. But also understanding the uniqueness of the situation.”
Because Virginia has already conducted it’s presidential primary, the state doesn’t have to face the more difficult decision of whether to press on with primary voting or change course.
The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.