VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Record numbers of Hampton Roads voters are already requesting to vote by mail this November, flooding local registrars' offices with mail-in ballot requests and far outpacing the demand of the 2016 presidential election cycle.
As of August 11, about 50,000 voters in the seven cities have requested mail-in ballots, according to registrar's offices in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Hampton, and Newport News.
The coronavirus pandemic is a big reason; many voters are deciding it's safer to vote from home. Plus, Virginia voters no longer need an excuse to vote absentee. Any registered voter can request a mail-in ballot, per a 2020 state law change.
Burdette Lawrence, deputy registrar and absentee coordinator in Suffolk, said the number of absentee ballot requests this early in the election cycle is "unbelievable" and "astronomical."
Norfolk registrar Stephanie Iles said she estimates between 50 and 60 percent of voters will vote absentee in Virginia this November.
The first mail-out of absentee ballots is September 18.
Registrars in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Hampton report they've received at least five times as many absentee ballot requests so far this year as they sent out during the first mail-out in 2016.
Virginia Beach absentee coordinator Laura Kane said voters should make sure not to apply to vote by mail multiple times, as election officials are having to sort through and discard repeat ballot requests from people who mailed multiple or applied both by mail and online.
Kane also asked voters not to call and check on the status of their ballot. She said election workers are prevented from processing a growing number of mail-in ballot requests when they're answering calls. Voters won't receive an absentee ballot until mid-September at the earliest, after the first mail-out.
Hampton Roads registrars report receiving thousands of mail-in ballot requests over the weekend due to a third party registration campaign by the Center for Voter Information.
Despite claims from the Trump administration, there is no proof that voting by mail leads to widespread fraud and voter fraud is very rare.
“Voting by mail increases voter turnout and increases the security of elections because there are multiple checks along the way," said 13News Now political analyst Quentin Kidd.
Statistics and estimates by city:
- As of 8/11/20: About 20,000 mail-in applications received
- First mail-out in 2016: 4,000 absentee ballots
- Total absentee ballots sent out in 2016: About 30,000
- As of 8/11/20: About 8,000 mail-in applications received
- First mail-out in 2016: 5,000 absentee ballots
- Total absentee ballots sent out in 2016: About 16,000
- As of 8/11/20: About 7,500 mail-in applications received
- First mail-out in 2016: 1,481 absentee ballots
- As of 8/11/20: About 5,000 mail-in applications received
- First mail-out in 2016: 800 absentee ballots
- Total absentee ballots sent out in 2016: About 3,000
- As of 8/11/20: About 3,000 mail-in applications received
- Total absentee ballots sent out in 2016: 4,242 ballots
- As of 8/11/20: 2,408 mail-in applications received
- First mail-out in 2016: 613 absentee ballots
- Total absentee ballots in 2016: 2,619 absentee ballots
- As of 8/11/20: About 4,000 mail-in applications received
- 2016 numbers: Election officials are researching this information