Following a recent wave of voting reforms, which Governor Ralph Northam signed into law this past July, Virginia is now one of many states to offer early voting leading up to election day. This new option for casting one’s ballots began on Friday, Sept. 18.
According to the Fredericksburg Department of Voting and Elections, first, voters must ensure they are registered to vote in the correct, corresponding locality they wish to be counted in. Those living on campus or in the surrounding community may choose to register to vote in Fredericksburg until twenty-two days before the election, or Tuesday, Oct. 13.
When these steps are completed voters who wish to vote early may do so at the General Registrar’s office at 601 Caroline Street from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Students registering to vote on campus are separated into three separate wards with different polling precincts. However, when showing up to vote early, all voters go to the same place.
Voters are encouraged to wear a mask, practice social distancing and follow proper hygiene just like they would on Nov. 3. An acceptable form of identification is also still required and photo ID is recommended, as the massive, voting package legislation deal has also altered previous ID policies.
According to Vote Early Day 2020, the sponsoring organization of national vote early day, some argue there are many advantages to early voting and even more so in the wake of COVID-19. For example, when voters choose to pursue this route, they can vote around their schedule. This could be especially useful for students. Voting early in off-peak, low traffic times also decreases the risk of spreading or getting COVID-19. Not only is there less risk in not standing and waiting in long lines, but there will also be fewer poll workers staffing the building.
Senior Hannah Olkowski, a political science major and UMW Votes fellow, said she plans to vote early at her local registrar’s office in Stafford county.
“I think voting early is a really good option, especially in a pandemic to avoid crowds and lines as much as possible,” said Olkowski.
Olkowski hopes that as the word gets out about voting early there won’t be as much of a congested turnout at polling places. “I have been sharing with my family and my peers about the early option as they are worried about the crowds and the mail-in process as the USPS has recently been questioned,” said Olkowski.
Jaelyn Scott, a senior history major and member of UMW Votes, has instead requested an absentee ballot.
“That was the best option for me as I don’t have a car,” said Scott. “For people who don’t have readily available transportation, it’s a great route to go.” Scott hopes students will take advantage of the new policy in either form, in person, or mail-in and that voting early will relieve some of the stresses put on election day workers.
The university plans to endorse and advertise early voting to students. Sarah Dewees, the associate director for the Center for Community Engagement and a sponsor of the UMW Votes club, said the immediate goal is to raise awareness of the option as many students do not know about it.
“Our big touches on early voting will be through informational social media campaigns, class visits, National Voter Registration Day, and participation in Vote Early Day on October 24th,” said Dewees. She hopes to organize other events and activities to help students take advantage of this option. One of these events will be Walking Wednesdays, where UMW Votes will facilitate a group walk to the General Registrar’s office.