With November fast approaching, Charlottesville officials are gearing up for an election like no other.
The coronavirus pandemic has radically changed how ballots will be cast this year, with much of the focus on mail-in ballots rather than in-person voting.
Also contributing to the large number of absentee voting requests are doubts among some of the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to deliver the ballots on time, as well as new state laws that make non-traditional voting easier.
“There are so many unknowns at this time, which makes preparing for the election especially challenging,” Registrar Melissa Morton said.
As of Friday, the city registrar’s office had processed more than 4,600 requests for mail ballots with about 2,000 applications waiting for processing.
For the June primary, officials sent out more than 4,800 mail ballots, more than double the 2016 presidential election.
Morton said the city has more than tripled its pace of mail-in ballots since the primary and expects to receive as many as 15,000 mail ballot requests.
On top of the mail-in ballots, the city is expecting 14,000 people to vote in person, either early or at the polls on Nov. 3.
Throughout the country, some election officials have reported a shortfall in volunteers for Election Day over safety concerns from the pandemic. Morton said that’s far from an issue in Charlottesville.
“People are wanting to participate in this election any way they can,” she said. “I hope that this enthusiasm continues for elections to come. As much as we would like to, we may not be able to use all the election officers who are applying for this election.”
Albemarle County’s voter registrar also reported strong interest from those wishing to help at the polls.
City election officials will face a tight turnaround between receiving ballots and sending them out. Ballots are expected to be available the week of Sept. 14 and mailings will occur around Sept. 18.
Morton said many mail ballot requests are being denied because applicants aren’t including the last four digits of their Social Security number. However, those applicants can resubmit their application with the information included.
Another common issue local officials are experiencing is multiple mail-in ballot requests. Some voters are sending in more than one ballot request or sending in a voter registration application and a mail-in ballot request, even if they are already registered to vote, which is adding more work to the process.
Morton said the city has received “little to no guidance” from the state on how to implement recent changes caused by the pandemic, such as early in-person voting.
“I understand they are working hard, but if they sent an email stating they are aware of our concerns, it could ease some of the stress we, as directors of elections, are feeling,” she said. “Like COVID, we are in this together. More communication from the top would be helpful.”
The prominent races in the November election in Central Virginia will be the presidency, one U.S. Senate seat and House of Representatives seats.
At the top of the ticket, Republican President Donald Trump will face Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, Libertarian Jo Jorgenson and rapper Kanye West, who is running as an independent, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins did not qualify for the ballot.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner is seeking re-election against Republican Daniel Gade.
In Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes Charlottesville, Democrat Cameron Webb is squaring off against Republican Bob Good. Good defeated Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, in a convention this summer.
In the 7th Congressional District, which includes Louisa and Orange counties, Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger is being challenged by Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper.
There also will be two statewide referendums on the ballot. One relates to Virginia’s redistricting process, while the other concerns taxation of vehicles used by armed services-related persons.