‘We go to extraordinary lengths to serve our [county] voters’

By Robert Hurley — For Foothills Forum

Although Election Day is two months away, Rappahannock County’s roughly 6,000 registered voters can begin casting their ballots beginning Sept. 18 by mail or in person. And local officials are confident mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 election will be free of fraud and delivered on time.

“I am completely confident that there are enough safeguards in place to assure voter fraud will not occur,” said county Director of Elections Kimberly McKiernan. “We go to extraordinary lengths to serve our voters and conduct our elections with the utmost professionalism and integrity.” 

Asked if there has ever been voter fraud in the county, McKiernan said “not to my knowledge, and certainly not in the eight years I’ve held this position.”

Flint Hill resident Paul Smith, a nationally-recognized election law expert, believes claims of voter fraud with mail-in ballots are, for the most part, “made up.”  

“There is very, very little occurrence of fraudulent activity with mail-in or absentee voting,” Smith said. “The facts just don’t support the claims. Virginia and all states have very strict identification requirements to protect against fraud, and of course it is a felony to vote illegally.”

Smith said that the expected increase of mail-in voting across the country may cause problems with the timely processing of ballots in heavily populated urban areas, but he doesn’t see that occurring in Rappahannock. 

“We are a small, low population county and I expect the election will run smoothly here, as in past elections,” he said.

The regional office for the U.S. Postal Service declined to be interviewed for this article but in an email assured that the Postal Service “has more than enough capacity to handle election mail volume.” 

One county postmaster, who declined to speak on the record, noted that local post offices work closely with local election officials to make sure ballots are received on time, but also urged voters to mail their ballots early to avoid any delays. Additionally, the county’s official website states: “Due to the current national health crisis we are strongly encouraging voters to submit an application to vote by absentee mail.”

Starting Sept. 18, voters will have 45 days before Election Day to vote in person, by mail or drop off their absentee ballots at the Rappahannock County Voter Registration Office. To address potential problems with mail deliveries, late arriving ballots will be counted until 12 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6.  However, all absentee mailed-in ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3. 

Under Virginia’s election rules, voters have several options to cast their ballots:

Voting on Election Day

Vote at your assigned precinct. Rappahannock’s voting precincts will be open on Nov. 3 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Voting absentee by mail

If you are not able to vote at your precinct in person on Election Day, you may apply for an absentee ballot by contacting the Rappahannock Voter Registration Office at 540-675-5380 or apply online at vote.elections.virginia.gov.  Applications for absentee mail-in ballots must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. Voters no longer need to provide an excuse to vote absentee. 

Applications may be returned by mail, fax, or email. Once your application is approved you will be sent an absentee ballot which can be returned by mail or dropped off at the Voter Registration Office at 262A Gay St., Washington, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., or in the office’s after-hours drop box. Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, or if mailed they must be postmarked on or before Election Day. Rules do not allow voters to drop off any absentee ballot, other than their own.

Early voting in-person 

Starting Sept. 18, you may vote at the Rappahannock Voter Registration Office in person. Voters must show an acceptable form of ID, or an ID confirmation statement. Masks and social distancing are required in the office. 

“We have already received 600 requests for absentee mail-in ballots and we expect more,” said McKiernan. “We have to get those applications approved and ballots in the mail to voters beginning Sept. 17. Given the unprecedented number of applications and ballots that need to be processed and reported in a short time frame, I would ask those who want to vote early to hold off until Monday, Sept. 21.”

The Virginia General Assembly has been considering further modifications to the voting process. The Rappahannock News will provide readers with any updates and a complete voting guide in its Sept. 17  edition.

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