Presidential election years always increase political engagement and interest in the democratic process, and this election season is shaping up to be quite interesting. Many people may want to vote in 2016 who have not voted before or have not voted for a long time. For the most part, getting registered and voting in Virginia is not too complicated, but there are laws in place to protect the democratic process, and it can be confusing without a bit of guidance. There are eligibility requirements, important dates, and certain regulations for voting that you will want to keep in mind as we count down to November 8th. Our Virginia voter guide will help you get oriented and make sure you’re ready for Election Day.
The first step to voting in Virginia is to make sure you are registered. You must register by the deadline in order to vote in any Virginia election. The deadline for all general elections is 22 days prior to the election. For the November 2016 election, this deadline is October 17th. If you choose to register by mail, your application must be postmarked no later than this date. Virginia does not allow same-day registration at the polls, so it is important to observe the deadline and get registered in plenty of time.
First, make sure you are eligible to vote in Virginia. You can register to vote in Virginia if:
- You are a US citizen
- You are at least 18 years old
- You are a resident of Virginia
- You have not been legally stripped of your voting rights for any reason OR your voting rights have been restored
Once you have confirmed your eligibility, there are several ways you can register to vote. If you have a Virginia driver’s license or ID card, you can register online at http://www.elections.virginia.gov.
You can also print a registration form from the same website. Registration forms can also be obtained from any DMV, public library, social service agency, or voter registrar’s office.
Not Sure If You’re Registered?
If you are not sure whether you are registered to vote, you can check your voter information here by clicking the box labeled “Check Your Voter Information.” You only need to register once, but you will need to update your information if you relocate. You can make these changes at the link above. You can also submit changes in writing to your voter registrar’s office. If you choose this method, remember that you must sign your written request for it to be valid.
Find Your Polling Place
Your polling place is listed on your voter registration card, which you should receive in the mail after you register. You can also contact your voter registrar’s office or look up your polling place online.
There are many reasons why you might not be able to vote in person at your polling place on Election Day. If you meet certain criteria, you may be eligible to vote using an absentee ballot. There are many reasons you may vote absentee. These include:
- You will be away from home on Election Day for either business or personal reasons
- You will be working for at least 11 hours while polls are open
- You live overseas
- You are a college student living away from home
- You or your spouse is active duty military
- You are unable to go to the polls due to disability, illness, or pregnancy
- You are the caretaker for someone who cannot go to the polls due to disability, illness, or pregnancy
- You are a law enforcement officer, firefighter, search and rescue, or emergency services worker
- You will be absent due to a religious obligation
- You are an electoral board member, registrar, officer of election, or voting machine custodian
For a full list of absentee voting criteria, visit the Virginia Department of Elections website.
An application for absentee voting can be completed in person at your voter registrar’s office between 45 days and 3 days prior to the election. If you submit your application by mail, the voter registrar must receive it no later than close of business the Tuesday prior to Election Day.
Later absentee voting may be allowed under certain emergency circumstances. Contact your voter registrar’s office to see if you qualify for emergency absentee voting.
The Virginia legislature passed a voter ID law in 2013. As of that time, voters must present a valid photo ID in order to vote. Acceptable identification includes:
- Valid Virginia driver’s license
- Valid United States passport
- Any other valid photo ID issued by a state or federal agency
- Valid student photo ID issued by a school located in Virginia
- Any valid employee ID that includes a photo
- A free Virginia voter ID card
If you do not have another valid form of photo identification and you are registered to vote in Virginia, you can obtain a free Virginia voter ID card through your voter registrar’s office.
If you don’t have a valid photo ID with you when you go to the polling place, you will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot. You must then present your ID to the Electoral Board by noon the Friday after the election.
So you’re registered and ready to go to your polling place. Here’s what you need to know.
- Polling places are open from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. You will be able to vote as long as you are in line by 7:00 p.m.
- As explained above, you must bring a valid photo ID in order to vote.
- Sample ballots may be produced by electoral boards, political parties, or special interest groups. All sample ballots must list who authorized and produced them. Only ballots produced by the electoral board are guaranteed to be complete and unbiased. Pay attention and make sure you are getting the correct ballot information.
- Election officials will happily show you an official sample ballot if you request it, and one will be posted at the polling place.
- You are entitled to a demonstration of the voting equipment if you need one. Feel free to ask for assistance if required.
- Your child can watch you vote if they are 15 years old or younger.
- All polling places are required to be accessible to those with disabilities. If you have questions about accommodations, contact your voter registrar prior to Election Day to discuss your needs.
- You may have assistance voting if you want or need it. Anyone may assist you except an employer or union representative.
- Be sure to read your ballot instructions carefully to be sure your vote is counted.
- If you make a mistake you can request a new ballot, but you must do so before your ballot is cast.
What’s On My Ballot?
Presidential races always get the most attention, but there will be Congressional races and a number of state and local races and referenda on your ballot as well. These smaller races can have a big impact on local issues and concerns. Consider reading up on the other races that will be on your ballot and how they could affect you and your neighbors.
In addition to the presidential race, Virginians will vote for all 11 of the state’s seats in the House of Representatives. Neither of Virginia’s Senate seats is up for re-election this year.
There will be two state constitutional amendments up for a vote, which can pass with a simple majority.
- The “Right to Work” Amendment would make it illegal for workplaces to require labor union membership as a condition of employment.
- A property tax amendment would provide a local option property tax exemption for spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty
Five districts will hold school board elections in November for a total of 24 seats. These districts are Arlington, Portsmouth, Richmond, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach. Leesburg, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Richmond, and Virginia Beach will also hold mayoral elections on November 8.
You can find complete information about what will be on your local ballot here.
If you have any questions about getting registered or voting, you can find detailed resources and guidance on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Your district voter registrar’s office can also answer questions and help you navigate the process. You can find contact information for your registrar online or in your local yellow pages.
Share our Virginia voter guide with friends and family to make sure you are all prepared for Election Day!