Presidential election voting is under way
PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEY CAN’T COME TO THE POLLS ON NOV. 6 CAN CAST ABSENTEE BALLOTS NOW
BY KATIE THISDELL
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Election Day is in 45 days.
But for thousands of people, the chance to vote has begun via absentee ballots.
The Stafford County registrar’s office opened up its absentee precinct Friday for residents who can’t make it to the polls on Nov. 6.
Carlos Martinez, who lives in Aquia Harbour, is one of those. He’ll be in Puerto Rico from October to March for his homeland security job.
“I was glad I was able to have this opportunity,” Martinez said after casting his ballot in the new absentee precinct set up in the government complex. “This is a very critical election that will determine our future.”
He filled in the circles beside those he thought were the best candidates based on his gut—Martinez had been hoping there would be a clearer, definitive difference between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Virginia law allows 20 reasons for voters to cast their ballots early. The list includes being a commuter, vacationer, caregiver, first responder, poll worker or student, among others.
As with many registrar offices in the state, the absentee precinct in Stafford will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for the next six weeks, along with the two Saturdays before the election: Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. The same is true for Fredericksburg. Spotsylvania County opened its absentee polling place Wednesday.
In Stafford, the room is inside the main entrance of the general government complex at Stafford Courthouse. Look for the “Vote” sign.
Because of the large projected turnout in this fall’s presidential election, Stafford Registrar Greg Riddlemoser moved absentee voting out of his office’s lobby.
“Obviously I can’t do that for thousands and thousands of people,” Riddlemoser said. He estimated that 14,000 absentee ballots may be cast in the county by Election Day.
In-person absentee voting is an option in the state, along with the traditional mail-in absentee ballot. Virginia does not have early voting as some states do.
Some of the first Stafford voters were county staffers, such as Assistant Registrars Andrew Rodgers and Daniel Kim.
Rodgers, 22, was a George Mason University student during the 2008 presidential election and voted by mail-in ballot.
“I didn’t get to come in here and sit at a booth and put it in my ballot,” Rodgers said before work. “You don’t get to interact with people.”
Learning about the months of preparation that go into administering an election has been interesting for Rodgers.
The end goal is that everything works on Election Day.
And Stafford is ready, said Cameron Sasnett, special assistant registrar for technology, training and site support.
“In essence, we can have the election next week, that’s how ready we are,” Sasnett said.
On Nov. 6, he will visit most, if not all, of the county’s 27 polling places.
Since he helps prepare the equipment, he was the first to fill in the bubble on a ballot Wednesday, when the absentee precinct room was set up.
Among Friday’s 33 voters was Carey Whitfield, who lives in Falmouth.
The 90-year-old will celebrate his birthday on Nov. 6. But instead of heading to the polls, he’s going to West Virginia for a gathering of World War II veterans he served with in the U.S. Navy.
He didn’t want to rely on the mail to deliver his ballot, though.
“I brought it right here to the horse’s mouth, as you might say,” Whitfield said.
KEY ELECTION DATES
New voter cards will be mailed out to all active voters over the next month. An approved ID is required to vote. Here are some important dates:
Sept. 21 to Nov. 3: In-person absentee voting.
Oct. 15: Deadline to register to vote in Nov. 6 election.
Oct. 30: Deadline to apply for a mail-in absentee ballot.
Nov. 6: Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Absentee ballots must be in the registrar’s office by the end of the day.
Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975