Tazewell County Courthouse ...

TAZEWELL, Va. — For the first time in Virginia’s history, residents this year will be able to vote in-person early and can do so in just a few weeks.

Tazewell County Registrar Brian Earls said the change was made this year by the General Assembly to allow the early voting for seven days prior to the election, but that it was extended to 45 days because of the pandemic.

“We will have the longest early voting period than any state in the country,” he said, and it starts on Sept. 18. “The whole year, we were trying to figure out how to adjust for early voting for seven days, then it jumped to 45.”

On Sept. 18 and through Oct. 31 a registered voter can visit Earls’ office in North Tazewell and cast a vote in person, rather than go through the absentee ballot process.

Before, he said, residents could visit his office, apply for an absentee ballot and then complete the ballot and vote, but now no application or absentee ballot will be required for in-person voting.

“We will only do in-person early voting here,” he said of his office and no precinct will be open for that.

West Virginia allows early voting for 10 days (Oct. 21-Oct. 31) prior to the election and Mercer County has four precincts open for voting.

Sept. 18 is also the date in Virginia that all absentee ballots already processed will be mailed out and applications coming after that date will be processed quickly. The last day to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 23.

“We try to mail out the ballot the next day after an application is received,” he said.

Earls said so far more absentee ballot applications have been processed than for the entire 2016 General Election.

“We already have over 800,” he said. “We had just over 700 in 2016 total.”

An increase in the number of absentee ballots also presents another hurdle with election procedure changes that could delay results and impact a close election.

Earls said that in prior years a mail-in absentee ballot had to be received by election day so it could be processed that day and counted.

“Now, as long it is postmarked by election day it can be counted,” he said. “That may mean all the votes will not be counted until the Friday after the election.”

Local elections in particular could be impacted by that, he said, because they can often be very close.

Earls is also concerned about another change that was proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam during a special legislative session Tuesday.

Northam wants to give voters a chance to correct absentee ballots that are sent in with errors and would not usually be counted.

If that is approved, Earls said his office will have to set aside a day before the election for the central absentee precinct to process ballots and find those with errors.

“Right now, if it is rejected for whatever reason it is not counted,” he said. “I have to send a letter telling the voter it did not count. We may have 15 to 35 or so usually rejected.”

But if the change is approved, the voter will be given a chance to correct the ballot so it can be counted.

That would have to be worked out as far as scheduling and exactly how it is handled, he said.

Earls also said a photo ID is no longer required, only an identifying document, which could be a pay stub or utility bill, for example, with the voter’s name and address.

The last day to register to vote in Virginia is Oct. 13.

— Contact Charles Boothe at cboothe@bdtonline.com

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