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Election officer Ken Beachum guided people to the voting booths at Stonehouse Elementary School in James City Council on Nov. 6, 2018.

Because of health safety threats posed by COVID-19, Gov. Ralph Northam postponed upcoming local elections from May 5 to May 19. This gives the state and localities two more weeks to prepare polling places in this time of social distancing. It also provides voters with much-needed extra time to cast absentee ballots, if they choose not to vote in person.

Across Virginia on May 19, voters in 56 localities will cast ballots for such positions as mayor and school board member. In the Richmond region, the towns of Ashland and Louisa will elect three Town Council members each.

“We will do everything possible to protect the health of poll workers and voters,” Northam said at a Monday coronavirus briefing.

Northam is encouraging Virginians to vote absentee, and to immediately apply for a ballot. The new deadline to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to you for the upcoming election is Tuesday, May 12. For more details, contact the state Department of Elections at: https://www.elections.virginia.gov

Currently under Virginia law, voters must stipulate one of 20 reasons why they cannot physically show up at the polls. According to Northam’s office, voters in the upcoming spring elections can choose reason 2A, “my disability or illness.”

Fortunately after July, that won’t be an issue. The General Assembly wisely embraced no-excuse absentee voting this past session, so Virginians will no longer have to disclose why they’re not voting in person. As we’ve previously said, that is nobody’s business. Voting should be encouraged, not discouraged.

Election officials must make polling places as safe as possible during this public health crisis. Northam’s office said he has directed the state elections department “to provide the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance to general registrars on best practices to maintain social distancing and sanitization standards at polling locations.”

This again will be an issue in the primary for congressional elections, which has been moved from June 9 to June 23, and the November general election. Voters should not have to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights, and poll workers should feel safe as they make sure our elections run smoothly. A vote is a right, not a privilege, regardless of whether you vote absentee or at the polls.

— Pamela Stallsmith

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