Absentee ballot requests on rise for May elections in Southwest Virginia

Mike Still • Apr 1, 2020 at 9:00 PM

GATE CITY — Scott County General Registrar Mike Edwards says his office is seeing a rise in absentee ballot requests during Virginia’s COVID-19 state of emergency.

Edwards isn’t the only registrar seeing the latest trend in social distancing. Registrars in Lee and Wise counties and Norton are also preparing for the first election under Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive orders banning gatherings of more than 10 people and a stay-at-home order for citizens except for essential reasons — including voting.

On May 5, localities including Gate City, Dungannon, Clinchport, Wise, Pound, Coeburn, St. Paul, Appalachia and St. Charles will hold town elections. Edwards said voters under Northam’s order can still vote in person at polling places, but voters concerned about the spread of the novel coronavirus can choose to vote by absentee ballot.

Statewide deadlines for registration and requesting an absentee ballot are:

— April 13: Last day to register to vote or update voter address information

— April 28: Last day to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to you

— May 2: Last day to vote with an absentee ballot in person

“According to the State Board of Elections and the governor’s orders, anyone worried about social distancing can use an absentee ballot, choose reason 2A on the ballot for disability or illness and cite coronavirus,” Edwards said.

While people can mail in their ballots, Edwards said he is encouraging people to vote curbside in front of the registrar’s office.

“They can call in advance, and we’ll come outside to help them,” Edwards said. “We’ve got a parking space out front with a sign for voting.”

Lee County Registrar Patsy Burchett said that the only town election for May 5 is for St. Charles. Typically, no one has run for office, she said, and no one has declared candidacy for that election.

Burchett said she is seeing some early absentee ballot requests for the June 9 Republican Senate and House of Representatives candidate primaries and the November presidential election.

Norton holds its city council and constitutional officer elections in November, but city Registrar Marie Muir said she is also seeing an uptick in absentee ballot requests for the June and November elections.

“It’s unprecedented,” Muir said.

While statewide procedures for absentee voting are in place for May before Northam’s stay-at-home order expires June 10, Muir and other registrars are awaiting guidance heading into the June primary and fall elections.

“Whatever the state Board of Elections says, it will be uniform across the state,” Muir said.

Wise County Registrar Allison Robbins said her office has been promoting absentee voting via mail.

“It’s the best and safest way under current conditions,” Robbins said. “You can request a ballot online or by calling our office.”

Robbins said voters can also call ahead and submit absentee ballots by curbside, since the office is closed to the public under the state emergency.

“We’re doing all we can to keep our staff and the voters safe at this time,” Robbins said.

For more information on absentee ballots and voting:

— Scott County: (276) 386-3843 

— Lee County: (276) 346-7780

— Wise County: (276) 328-8331

— Norton: (276) 679-1162

For information on local elections, including candidates, visit the Virginia State Board of Elections website: www.elections.virginia.gov.

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