Early Voting, Disability and Caregivers
With only six days remaining until the presidential election, political ads are practically impossible to avoid. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could exempt yourself from being bombarded with the ads and endless phone calls? Yesterday, I drove to a local government center and exercised my right to vote...early. Although it won’t make the political ads or phone calls stop over the next few days, I feel good to have checked off something from my to-do list.
In several states and the District of Columbia, voters have options when it comes to voting before Election Day, November 6, 2012. While each state offers some form of absentee voting to registered voters who are expected to be unable to vote on Election Day, some states and DC offer “early voting” which is basically absentee voting in person with no excuse or justification necessary to do so.
In 21 states, Virginia included, an excuse is required to cast an absentee ballot which is submitted by mail or in person at an election official’s office or satellite voting location. Each state has their own guidelines as to who is eligible to vote absentee. In Virginia, a person must provide a valid reason that he/she would be unable to show up during normal polling hours on Election Day in order to qualify to vote early.
Registered voters in Virginia with one of the following excuses (which are for example only and not a complete listing of justifications) are authorized to vote by absentee ballot:
- Active duty military personnel and their dependents who reside outside of the United States or who will be absent from the county or city in which he/she is entitled to vote; or students who will be away from their voting district on election day; or persons who are unable to go in person to the polls on election day because of a religious obligation.
- Persons who are unable to go in person to the polls on election day because of a disability, illness or pregnancy; or persons who are unable to go in person to the polls on the day of the election because they are primarily and personally responsible for the care of an ill or disabled family member who is confined at home.
- Persons serving as a designated representative of a political party, independent candidate or candidate in a political party; or persons who are a member of an electoral board, registrar, officer of election, or custodian of voting equipment.
- Persons who, due to work, personal business or vacation, will be absent from their voting district (county or city in which he is entitled to vote); or persons who will be at his/her place of work and commuting to and from home to the workplace for 11 or more hours of the 13 hours that the election polls are open (6 am - 7 pm); or certain first responders such as police officers, firefighters, search and rescue personnel and medical services personnel.
Two states, Washington and Oregon, conduct all elections by mail and do not have in-person voting on Election Day. A ballot is automatically mailed to every eligible voter in these states in advance of Election Day.
Important dates related to the timing and availability of early voting and absentee voting vary by state. An easy-to-read summary of those important dates as organized by state has been provided by National Public Radio (NPR). The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides an explanation of early voting offers a summary of states which offer no-excuse or excuse-required absentee voting.
In most circumstances, election officials want to make it easy for registered voters to cast their ballots. But let me tell you a brief story which I witnessed yesterday at our local satellite voting location.
A woman came inside to complete the required paperwork for her mother to vote “in absentee in person.” Her mother had remained in the car outside. A person working at the polling location assisted the daughter in completing the paperwork before a portable electronic ballot machine was taken to her mother out in the parking lot so that she could cast her vote.
The daughter asked if she could also vote early while she was present. I was shocked at the response of the polling volunteer who gave her a very difficult time. The daughter explained that she cared for her disabled mother at home every day. The volunteer wanted to know if she could not possibly get away for an hour to show up in person on Election Day. Keep in mind that being the primary caregiver of a person is valid justification to vote early in Virginia.
The daughter explained that it each day was unpredictable and that she could very well not be able to get away even for a brief period of time. The polling volunteer challenged her at least three times with resistance to the request to vote at the satellite location while she was immediately available. I was appalled.
In my opinion, the volunteer should NOT have gotten into her personal business. This woman was obviously the caregiver of her mother. Whether she could safely leave the home for any period of time was really none of this person’s business. If the woman chose to fill out the required paperwork for absentee ballot as a caregiver (which I believe she ultimately did), that is her business.
When asked later, the polling volunteer said that his job is to prevent voter fraud and he stuck to his original position that anybody who can go out of their way on Election Day should do so to cast their ballot. By the way, the line to vote in-person absentee yesterday at this particular satellite voting location was only two to four persons deep during the time that I was there casting my own vote.
How about you? Have you voted already? Do you plan on casting your ballot on Election Day? Will you vote early in the next few days?