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COMMENTARY: For accurate voting information, go to the source - not social media
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COMMENTARY: For accurate voting information, go to the source - not social media

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PHOTO: Drop box (copy)

Voter Drop Box at 601 Caroline St. in Fredericksburg where residents can deposit voter registration and absentee ballot applications, and return absentee ballots.

There is a great deal of information regarding voting in the Nov. 3, 2020, presidential election during the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of it is hyperbolic, misleading and untrue—undermining people’s confidence in voting.

Virginia voters deserve to understand the facts about casting a ballot in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.

The only two official sources of registration and elections information in the commonwealth are the Virginia Department of Elections and your local voter registrar’s office.

The Virginia Department of Elections website allows people to check their voter registration status, register to vote, apply for an absentee ballot, view their sample ballot, find their polling place and has applications if you want to serve as an officer of election.

Local voter registrars’ offices can assist voters who cannot access the online Department of Elections resources. Social media should be avoided as a source for reliable election information.

Candidates for office, office holders, political parties, and third-party groups have no authority to register you to vote or to give you a ballot. Only your local election administrators (voter registrar, electoral board, officers of election), who are your neighbors and dedicated to administering elections in accordance with state and federal laws, may do this.

A Virginia voter who is registered to vote will be able to cast their ballot in three ways during the Nov. 3, 2020, election: They may vote early, absentee by mail, or in-person on Election Day.

Early voting begins on Sept. 18 and takes place in your local voter registrar’s office and/or satellite voting location. Voters should check their local voter registrar’s website for hours and locations.

Mailed ballots will be sent on Sept. 18 for those voters who have requested an absentee ballot and will continue to be mailed until the absentee application deadline, which is 5 p.m. on Oct. 23.

Neither early voting nor voting by mail requires a voter to provide an excuse, but an absentee application is required in order to have a ballot mailed to you.

Election Day voting will take place on Nov. 3 and polling locations will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

If you are not registered to vote, you have until Oct. 13 to submit your completed registration application.

Voting by mail has been the subject of the greatest amount of misinformation. As stated earlier, a voter must submit an absentee ballot application to receive their ballot by mail. They will be able to track their ballot through an online resource called Ballot Scout.

Voters who request their ballot prior to Sept. 18 will have a minimum of 45 days in which to receive and return their ballots. Included with your ballot will be a pre-paid postage return envelope, instructions, and the location of your locality’s ballot drop box. Ballot drop boxes allow voters to return their own ballot in-person, rather than mailing it to the voter registrar’s office.

Local election administrators work closely with local U.S. Mail postmasters and have confidence in the professionalism and ability of the U.S. Postal Services to deliver ballots in a timely manner.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3 and arrive by noon on Nov. 6 in the office of the voter registrar to be counted. At no time does an election administrator look at how a ballot is marked.

Codified processes ensuring the validity and privacy of a person’s mailed ballot are followed.

COVID-19 has impacted all aspects of our lives and voting is not the exception. We wear masks, following directions when we go to a doctor’s office, grocery store or church.

Voters should also be prepared to adhere to CDC guidelines for polling places, which all localities will be following. This includes wearing a mask and social distancing. No persons other than the voter and authorized assistant, if necessary, should appear in-person to vote early or on Election Day.

Free and fair elections are essential to the American experiment. Having faced previous challenges, it is certain that the people who administer this election and, more importantly, the voters who participate in it will overcome today’s challenges and ensure that our nation will continue its path toward a more perfect union.

Marc Hoffman is director of elections and voter registrar for the

City of Fredericksburg.

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