More than 200 voters visited the Culpeper County Elections and Voter Registration office at 151 N. Main St. on Friday when its doors opened to the public for the first of 45 days of in-person voting.
At 8 a.m., the line of voters stretched around the building, Registrar James Clements said later in the morning. It took about 45 minutes to process everyone who was waiting “because COVID requires us to put social distancing measures in place,” Clements said.
The office will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays for in-person voting until Nov. 3. It will also be open on Oct. 24 and Oct. 31, the two Saturdays prior to Election Day, for voters to cast their ballots. People may also vote in person on Nov. 3 at their regular polling place.
Required to wear masks, voters are staggered as they enter the building to prevent crowding. Voting booths, pens and other materials are routinely sanitized.
After the initial rush Friday, the Culpeper office had a fairly steady stream of voters throughout the day and nobody really had to wait much, Clements said.
“My feeling about the day is pure exhaustion,” Clements told the Star-Exponent on Friday night, adding that he would be going home after working at the office for 14 hours that day.
This has been an unusual year, Clements said, given voting changes imposed by the state and the volume of work it has created.
“We got 4,000 mailed ballots [requested by voters] out the door this week,” he said, but staff didn’t have all the materials to do that until a week ago, causing an intense workweek to prepare ballots for mailing.
“I want to emphasize how much work went into mailing ballots, and I really want to encourage people to vote with them and mail them back,” Clements said.
Virginia voters are allowed to vote by mail, and may request a mail-in ballot to do so. These ballots even include a self-addressed envelope with the postage paid.
Because of all the concern in the news lately about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, Clements sought to reassure voters that it is safe to mail in their ballots.
“I have great faith in our Postal Service,” he said. “Please return your ballot by mail. It will be counted and go into the totals on Election Day.”
If you requested a mailed ballot, but decide to vote in person, Clements said to bring your mail-in ballot with you and use that to cast your vote. If you don’t use that ballot, your vote will be held in reserve until after Election Day is over, to make sure your vote isn’t registered twice.
With more than 200 people in his office throughout the day Friday, Clements expressed concern for his employees due to COVID-19.
“COVID is real, my employees are my responsibility, and I’m asking voters to consider voting by mail to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Those who may be nervous about mailing their ballot may bring it to the registrar’s office and submit it in person. The Culpeper office does not have a metal dropbox for ballots, as do some other localities across the state, Clements said.
But a Culpeper County Board of Elections member has committed to be outside the registrar’s office on Main Street while it is open for in-person voting, and will accept ballots dropped off by voters who don’t want to mail their ballots and who don’t wish to enter the office out of concern for COVID.
The local elections office has a suitcase into which voters can place their ballots until the elections officer on duty can deliver them upstairs to the office to be counted.
“A permanent 24/7 box is a target and an unfunded state mandate that requires a lot more than a box,” Clements said. “It requires a security camera and an archive of camera footage that has to be preserved.”
He said it was not possible to implement such a box in Culpeper in time for this election.
“The localities that use them successfully likely already had them or had planned to use them,” he said.
Also, he added, “Dropboxes were only legislated for this election, so to invest in a box and surveillance system for something that would go away in 2021 is wasteful.”
Clements said the number of voters will typically be higher in a presidential election year.
“In 2008, on the last Saturday of voting, the line wrapped around almost to Knakal’s on Davis Street,” he said.
He said he has no idea if more people would vote this year. But there has been a lot of volume already, which is unusual, Clements said. He didn’t offer any projections about how election issues and counting ballots will go.
“2020 has been the wackiest year in my life, so I’m not making any predictions 45 days into the future,” he said.
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