Why and How to Vote Absentee

By Jaime Wise, Contributor

The 2020 election is only a little more than two months away. As a nation, we’re going to be electing a President, thirty-three Senators, the entire House of Representatives, and countless state and local officials. If you’ve paid any attention to the news over the past two years — and hopefully you have — you know about how important this election is.


Every category of voters turned out in higher numbers for the 2018 midterms than they did in 2014, and a similar spike is projected for 2020. Presidential election years always draw more interest and engagement than midterm election years, and analysts are hopeful. But, of course, nothing is certain, and the pandemic has altered the predictions. Polling stations will still be open, but many potential voters are wary of voting in the usual conditions.


But voting at the polls is not the only way to vote. If you’ve heard of absentee voting recently, you might think it’s new, a response to the virus, unstable, or untested. I know people are worried about the process. I’m not worried, though.


Absentee voting is a way for voters to have their votes counted if they are unable to vote in person. If you’re sick, away at college, or overseas, you would want to vote absentee. Before this year, you would have been required to prove you needed an absentee ballot, but now, in Virginia at least, everyone has access to absentee voting.


Governor Northam and the state legislature have been doing everything in their power to ensure that the absentee voting process is at its most efficient and secure status. However, there is much controversy surrounding the federal government’s preparedness. President Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy have been accused of using the Postal Service for voter suppression by intentionally losing applications and ballots to boost Trump’s chances of reelection. Nothing is confirmed, but voters are suspicious.


Virginia and Maryland are both planning to use drop-off boxes in November to collect absentee ballots, avoiding any complications the Postal Service might encounter, and delegating vote collection to state officials as opposed to federal ones. These votes would hold the same weight and end up in the same place; they would just travel through different channels to get there. President Trump has expressed distrust for drop-off boxes, believing they could lead to voter fraud. Some voters think he’s trying to use his platform to discredit drop-off boxes and suppress voter participation. Whether Trump’s concerns are legitimate or not, they are unfounded. The drop-off boxes are locked and video monitored, and the ballots submitted through them are processed by the same people processing the mailed-in ballots.


Public opinion over drop-off boxes is split along party lines, with most Democrats supporting them and most Republicans wary of them, but overall, they provide voters across the political spectrum with more options and access in the November election, which should benefit everybody.

If you can vote, consider voting absentee. If you can’t but care about anybody who can, talk to them about considering it. It’s safer than voting in person, but it still lets people vote. You can apply for an absentee ballot on the Department of Elections page, but if you find that application difficult — it’s dense and requires a lot of private information — you can also apply through Vote Absentee Virginia, an organization with a state approved application focused on making the process easier for voters, many of whom are voting absentee for the first time. Either way, please vote!