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Citizens in the United States have many democratic principles and practices to be thankful for and among these, voting in our elections remains an important direct means of expression. 2020 has changed so many methods of communication and voting may feel confusing. Social distancing raises many questions about how, where, and when to vote. The Library of Virginia created this guide to help you make sure you’re ready.

Step 1 - Make Sure You're Registered

Registration is the method by which you assure that your name and current address are correctly in the voting system for your locality. When you move, even temporarily, you need to reassess your registration and make sure you are voting legally where you should be. The deadline to register or update a voter registration address is Tuesday, October 13, 2020. The Virginia Department of Elections Citizen Portal provides all of the necessary information citizens need to:

  • Register or check registration status 
    • Reasons to update your voter registration include a change in residence (even if you’re still the same county) or change in name due to marriage or court order. 
  • Find their polling place
  • Apply to vote absentee by mail
  • Sign up to be an election officer (poll worker) and more. 

The easiest way to register to vote is online via the Department of Elections website

If a citizen does not wish to register online, there are several additional places to register. See the full list provided by the Department of Elections.

Important Registration Deadlines
  • The deadline to register to vote is Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
  • The deadline to register by mail to vote is (postmarked by) Tuesday, October 13, 2020.
  • The deadline to request a ballot by mail is (received by) Friday, October 23, 2020.

Step 2 - Voting

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020 for in-person voting.  Virginians who cannot attend the polls on election day can vote early through in-person absentee, or by using a mail-in absentee ballot.

Absentee Voting
  • In a new change for 2020, Virginians do not need to provide a reason to vote absentee. 
  • The Department of Elections states that “If you believe you may not safely have a witness present while completing the absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020 Election, you are not required to have a witness present. Accordingly, you may disregard the witness signature requirement if you believe you may not safely have a witness present while completing your ballot.”
  • Some Virginia residents received unsolicited absentee ballot applications that were sent by an organization called the Center for Voter Information. Some of these applications had the wrong local registrar address. The Department of Elections released a statement on August 6th stating that any applications that arrive in the wrong locality’s office will be forwarded immediately to the correct office for processing. Read the full statement from the Department of Elections. 
  • In state and local elections, some first-time voters cannot vote absentee by mail. Check with your local General Registrar to confirm your eligibility to vote absentee by mail. Special federal ID requirements apply to certain first-time voters.
In-Person Absentee
  • Citizens can vote early at their local registrar’s office beginning 45 days before Election Day and ending the Saturday before Election Day. For this election, absentee voting will run from September 18th, 2020, through Saturday, October 31st, 2020.
  • At the registrar’s office or satellite voting location, you must provide your name and address and show an acceptable form of ID or sign an ID Confirmation Statement. 
  • Accessible equipment and/or curbside voting is available upon request.
Mail-in Absentee
  • Voters need to apply to vote by mail. The easiest option is to apply online.
  • If a voter prefers to submit a paper application for mail-in voting, it must be received by the local registrar’s office by Friday, October 23, 2020.
    • Paper absentee ballot application forms can be found on the Voter Forms Page 
  • Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Election Day (November 3, 2020) and received by noon 3 days after Election Day (November 6, 2020).
  • If a voter is concerned about issues with USPS, the voter can bring their mail in ballot directly to the office and hand deliver it, or use a commercial delivery service.
In Person on Election Day
  • Bring an acceptable form of ID.
  • Practice social distancing – stay at least six feet away from voters in front of and behind you in line.
Important Voting Deadlines
  • Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
  • The early voting period runs from Friday, September 18, 2020 to Saturday, October 31, 2020, but dates and hours may vary based on where you live.

What’s on the Ballot?

In addition to the presidential election, there are special elections in Virginia happening for: 

  • The U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, House of Delegates (List of candidates)
  • Local candidates for city/county/town government (List of candidates)
  • Proposed amendments to the Constitution of Virginia
    • Information on the proposed amendments, including explanations of the current and proposed laws, is provided by the Department of Elections. 

Visit the Candidates & Referendums page for additional details.


Header Image Citation

Headquarters opens, Central Civic Forum, Joseph T. McLenny, September 09, 1969. Lee F. Rodgers photograph collection, Portsmouth Public Library.

Annie Hatton

Reference Services Librarian

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