Election Day is today. Here’s what to know.
Voters at the Agricultural Service Center in Buckingham, Va., November 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)
As it does every year in Virginia — one of just four states in the U.S. to hold general elections every single year — Election Day has arrived.
Campaigns have dragged on for months. Pundits have pontificated. Polls have been cast, collected, analyzed and publicized.
Now it comes down to this: each one of us alone with a ballot at the polls. Here’s what to know.
What is on the ballot?
In Virginia, all 11 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are up for election. The most competitive races are in the 2nd, 7th and 10th Districts, where Democratic incumbents Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria and Jennifer Wexton are facing off against Republican challengers Yesli Vega, Jennifer Kiggans and Hung Cao, respectively.
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There’s a reasonable chance that your congressional district has changed since the last time you went to the polls to vote for federal representatives. That’s because Virginia completed its redistricting process at the tail end of 2021, meaning this year’s elections are the first use of the commonwealth’s new maps.
In some areas of Virginia, local offices like school boards and city councils are also up for election, and some localities have referendums on their ballot.
If you haven’t been following the news closely and want to see what you’ll be voting on before you get to the polls, Ballotpedia offers a Virginia Sample Ballot tool. Keep in mind, however, that this information isn’t official, and if you have any questions, you should reach out to your local registrar. The Virginia Department of Elections’ Citizen Portal offers you official information on your polling place, voter status, voting districts and more.
When and where do I vote?
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you are in line at your polling place when 7 p.m. hits, you are still allowed to vote.
Unsure of where to go? The Virginia Department of Elections’ Citizen Portal allows you to enter your name, date of birth, the last four numbers of your Social Security number and your locality to see specifically where your polling place is located.
There have been some problems this year with errors linked to polling locations listed on mailings sent out by the Virginia Department of Elections after redistricting, so if you have questions about where you should go, you can also check with your local registrar.
What do you need to vote?
In 2020, the Democrat-led Virginia General Assembly passed a law removing the requirement for voters to show photo identification before being allowed to vote.
In order to cast a ballot, Virginia voters can provide a state-issued driver’s license or ID card; voter confirmation documents; a U.S. passport; a student ID issued by a Virginia college, university or high school; other U.S.- or Virginia-issued identification; proof of tribal enrollment or other tribal ID card; a Virginia voter photo ID card; or any current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document listing name and address.
If a registered voter doesn’t have any of those forms of identification, they must sign a statement that they are who they claim to be, with false representations punishable as a Class 5 felony.
What if you haven’t registered to vote?
Voters who failed to register in time for Election Day will now also be allowed to vote at the polls under another Democrat-backed election reform that went into effect this year.
Same-day registration allows unregistered voters to register today and cast what’s known as a provisional ballot. These ballots aren’t counted on Election Day like ballots from voters who registered in advance; instead, they’re set aside for further vetting and are only counted if the local electoral board decides they’re valid.
Voters who cast provisional ballots can attend the board meeting where their ballot is decided, but it’s not required. If a provisional ballot is rejected, the would-be-voter receives a written notice from the registrar.
Forget to register to vote? Under a new law, you can still cast a ballot.
How does counting work?
With several close finishes expected, it could take a while to get a clear picture of who won and who lost. Some races could be called on election night, but results are unofficial until the post-election canvass is complete, which can take up to seven days.
The counting process is still somewhat in flux because of the state’s dramatic shift toward early and absentee voting, a phenomenon fueled by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the 45-day early voting window Democrats approved in 2020.
More than 930,000 ballots have already been cast in Virginia, and the state is encouraging local election officials to count those ballots as fast as possible to avoid election-night mirages, where results change dramatically when absentee results are added to precinct-by-precinct counts.
For example, Republican Daniel Gade seemed to be winning Virginia’s 2020 U.S. Senate race for much of the night, even though the Associated Press had called the race instantly for incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. That happened because huge numbers of Democratic-heavy absentee ballots weren’t reported until late in the evening, confirming Warner’s win.
Virginia allows registrars to pre-process absentee ballots, which means they can be fed into election machines as they come in without counting up the totals. Registrars have been told to immediately press the button to begin counting early votes as soon as polls close at 7 p.m. That could mean absentee results are reported earlier in some areas, but the timing will vary according to the capabilities and workload of each city and county.
The introduction of same-day voter registration this year could mean there are more outstanding ballots to verify and/or count after Election Day. State law also allows some late-arriving mail ballots to be counted, as long as they’re received by noon on the third day after the election with a postmark showing they were mailed before polls closed.
Because Friday is Veteran’s Day, a state holiday, some post-election activity could be pushed to next week.
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