The 2020 presidential election is already presenting challenges and increasing the workload for Richmond County’s Voter Registration Office. 

Mail mix-up

General registrar Halle Cullison told the Board of Supervisors that the season kicked off with a mix-up between mail for Richmond County and Richmond City. 

In August, a Richmond County resident contacted Cullison about a vote-by-mail application packet but it had a return address in Richmond City.

After digging into the matter, Cullison found that the packet came from The Center for Better Information, a third-party group based in Pennsylvania that aims to increase voter participation by sending out vote-by-mail applications, registration forms, and things of that nature.

The company wasn’t familiar with Virginia and got Richmond County and Richmond City mixed up. The same thing happened in any locations where a city and county share a name, Cullison said.

These are legitimate forms she confirmed. 

With other third-party groups sending out things, thus far, Richmond County has had about 12,000 pieces of mail come through for Richmond City. Each piece has to be opened and checked to make sure it’s forwarded to the proper location. So, Richmond County has hired a person specifically to open and verify election-related mail.

“That is how we began election season this year,” said Cullison.

Absentee voting begins Sept. 18

Absentee voting begins September 18 for people voting in person or by mail, and Virginia has introduced new laws changing how that’s done.

In July, Virginia introduced No Excuse Absentee Voting, which allows anyone to vote for any reason at any time 45 days prior to election day, Cullison explained. 

Those who plan to vote by mail-in ballot need to fill out an application to receive the ballot. But for this election, Virginia has scrapped the application requirement for people who want to vote in person at the voter registration office. Anyone can just bring in an ID and vote.

And Virginia has gotten more liberal about the acceptable forms of identification for voters. A photo ID is no longer required. Voters can use items, including their voter registration card, Social Security card or a Medicaid card, Cullison explained. 

Cullison said she anticipates seeing a large influx of in-person absentee voting. 

They have added two computers for voters to be checked in, but she isn’t adding polling staff at her office yet. She said the current staff will see how it goes and if the situation becomes overwhelming, she’ll look into bringing in additional people during the day. 

Voting by mail

Virginia also decided that localities must pay the return postage for mail-in ballots. 

And the code says the envelopes with the ballots must be postmarked to provide the most accurate picture of when the ballots are returned to determine whether or not they will be counted after the fact or not, Cullison explained. As a result, the return envelopes can’t have metered postage. Her office needs to buy stamps and attach them manually. 

“That’s another challenge,” Cullison told the board, explaining that many of the packets were already stuffed and have to be pulled apart so the postage can be added. 

And there’s a surge of Richmond County residents taking advantage of the option to vote by mail. 

About 700 people have requested that option, which Cullison described as an “unprecedented” number during her tenure. By comparison, in the 2016 Presidential Election, the county saw a maximum of about 250 people total request to vote absentee, she said. 

Ballot drop boxes

People who don’t want to vote in-person but are concerned about sending their ballot through the mail will have the option to use a ballot drop box at the County Administration Office.

Virginia is requiring that secured ballot drop boxes be available 24/7 and that they be monitored. Cullison’s office has set up a temporary box but there is no monitoring. The county will need to setup a system that can continually capture and store all of that footage. 

Voters who want to bring their ballots into the Voter Registration Office have that option also. But an individual can only submit his or her own ballot. People cannot return ballots for family members in the same household, and nurses or administration at senior communities cannot bring in ballots for their clients.

How absentee ballots are handled

Until election day, when ballots are returned, they are secured in a lockbox in the registrar’s office. Those submissions will not be reviewed until Election Day, and that will be handled by the absentee precinct.

This year, if for some reason there is an issue with your absentee ballot, election officials have to call and notify you of the error. Individuals who want to make a correction will have until the Friday following the election to go into the registrar’s office to fix it.

Cullison also said her office is using Ballot Scout technology, which allows her office and the voter to track where their mail-in ballots are from the time it is sent out from the county registrar’s office.

Election Day consolidated voting

Districts 1, 2, and 3 will vote at Richmond County High School again to help address the shortage of seasoned poll workers. “It’s not that there aren’t enough poll workers. The issue is that many are new,” Cullison said.

She plans to have a chief polling worker for each precinct, and since it’s such the “hot race” she also wants five workers per place.

Cullison said they will move the voting activities to the other end of a school to alleviate the parking issues seen in June.

Town Voting

Furthermore, from now on, Districts 2 and 3 will be considered “splits” for all general elections where a town seat is on the ballot. During check-in, voters in those districts will be told whether they are eligible to participate in Warsaw elections, which will occur at the same time during this election cycle. Those voters will get a ballot with the Warsaw election options on the back.

“So if you hear talk that there are two different ballots, that’s why,” said Cullison.