Virginia seeing high turnout for absentee voting, spike in student interest ahead of elections


RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Dept. of Elections is already seeing high turnout for absentee voting for a year, officials say, usually doesn’t get a lot of attention at the polls.

Virginia is one of 19 states that requires a reason to vote early. There are about 20 acceptable reasons to vote absentee in Virginia, including being a student from an out-of-state college or university, having business outside the city or county of residence on Election Day and more.

As of Friday, nearly 62,000 absentee ballots have been cast for the 2019 General Election in Virginia. About 111,000 absentee voting applications have been requested. In 2015, the last time all 140 General Assembly seats were on the ballot, a little more than 62,000 people voted absentee.

Elections officials are seeing a spike in interest from students this election season. About 16,000 students have requested to vote with an absentee ballot. Nearly three times as many students have requested absentee ballots this election compared to 2015. 

“It’s actually really surprising,” Virginia Commonwealth University student Raelyn Davis said. “Because you wouldn’t think a lot of students know about that.”

Davis is one of a few students Capitol Bureau Reporter Sara McCloskey spoke to Friday who knew about the Election Day was coming up. Since starting school in Richmond, Davis has registered to vote in the city and is planning to go to the polls in person. 

“Voting in presidential elections, that’s important but I feel like the most important are the ones that will like directly impact us,” she added. 

The Commissioner of the Department of Elections Christopher Piper says the increase in absentee voting applications might be because it is less difficult to apply with the internet. 

“You have online absentee ballot applications so it makes it easier,” Commissioner Piper added. 

Besides applying online to get an application mailed to a home address, voters can also go in person to their local registrar’s office to cast an absentee ballot by Nov. 2. 

Since there isn’t a statewide office on the ballot this year, Commissioner Piper says it’s usually consider and “off-off year” in terms of voter participation. 

“It’s typically Virginia’s lowest turn out of the four year cycle that we have,” he added.

But the commissioner says elections officials are seeing more people going to the polls for state or local elections over the past few years. 

As of today, more than 37,000 voters have cast their absentee ballots in-person while more than 24,000 have mailed them into their local registrar’s office. 

Other numbers that are high for absentee voter applications this year include people with disabilities and those going on a business trip or vacation. 

Election Day is Nov. 5. The polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. If you are in line at 7 p.m. you will be able to vote. Virginia requires voters to carry photo identification with them. If you forget to bring it with you, you can cast a provisional ballot but must come back to the registrar’s office with your photo identification by Nov. 8 for your ballot to be counted.
You can still apply to vote absentee until next Tuesday, Oct. 29. 

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