With elections approaching, some are saying that they are nervous about voting this year. 

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, where people have come to rely on the mail more than they may have before, many may rely on it to cast their vote this year. With federal-level changes from the new U.S. Postal Service postmaster and expected higher volume of mail-in ballots, concern continues to grow over the efficacy of voting by mail. 

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., held a virtual discussion on Sept. 4 to hear from constituents who expressed concerns with voting ahead of election day by mail. 

“Once faith in the postal system is lost, it’s hard to get back again,” said participant Lisa Roden, who has been discussing mail-in voting with her elderly mother. 

“My mother is not an internet person. She does everything by mail,” Roden explained.  “Her confidence is definitely shaken, to the point we talked about voting by mail just yesterday and she’s against it. This is not something that she is even considering.”

Registrars have encouraged voting by mail over in-person voting to help curb the spread of the virus. Since the onset of the pandemic, those with preexisting conditions, along with the elderly, have been considered to be among the most vulnerable populations. Data has also shown COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting people of color. 

During the discussion with the senator, his constituents from around the state shared anecdotes about relying on medication by mail and experiencing delays in recent weeks. They also expressed concern about voting in the upcoming congressional and presidential elections. 

Kaine explained that Virginians have up to 4 voting options this fall:

  1. Early in-person voting from Sep. 18 to Oct. 31
  2. Mail-in/absentee voting
  3. Nov. 3 in-person voting at local precincts
  4. Requesting a ballot by mail and dropping it off at local registrar

“Some jurisdictions are setting up multiple drop-box sites,” Kaine said. “If you decide you want to do it that way, you can get your ballot and to make sure, you can drop it off in person. The registrar can tell you how to do it.”

Recently, the General Assembly approved expanded access to ballot drop boxes. 

According to the Charlottesville registrar’s office, ballot drop boxes are planned to be available at its office. Additionally they will be available at polling locations for each voting precinct starting on Sept. 18, when in-person early voting begins, as well as on Election Day. Voting is also available in the registrar’s office where Assistant Registrar Grant Armstrong said no more than two people will be permitted inside at a time. 

“In-person early voting is only at our office, and we will do our best to implement social distancing,” Armstrong said. 

Albemarle County plans to set up a ballot drop off box at the County Office Building on Fifth Street Extended and is working with its election volunteers that will assist with various responsibilities.

“Some will help with the in-person early voting, some will help with getting thousands of mail-in ballots out in the mail to the voters, [and] some will help with processing incoming mail-in ballots,” said County Registrar Jake Washburne.

Meanwhile, concerns over mail-in voting comes in the wake of proposed changes to the U.S. Postal Service by its new postmaster, Louis DeJoy, that included cutting overtime and limiting post office hours, which could result in delays of package processing and mailing. Met with backlash and concerns over its impact on the election by lawmakers, DeJoy testified before Congress and delayed the changes until after the 2020 elections.  About 600 mail sorting machines have already been disconnected from some USPS locations, with no intention of being reconnected.

A GOP fundraiser and friend to the president with no Postal Service experience, Kaine said he sees DeJoy’s appointment during this pandemic as problematic. Recently, President Donald Trump has also encouraged people to vote twice, which is a felony offense.

“Combine those inexplicable changes with [DeJoy’s] lack of experience and President Trump’s repeated efforts to essentially demean postal operations and, particularly, demean voting by mail, and you have a perfect storm,” Kaine said. 

During the Zoom discussion, a Charlottesville resident named Sylvia, whose last name did not appear on the screen, asked the senator how the postmaster could be held accountable. Kaine said that he believes the position of postmaster general should be congressionally approved, rather than an appointment by presidents. 

Kaine also said that he hopes Congress can continue to work to reverse the changes to the Postal Service, get sorting equipment reinstalled and ensure adequate funding to USPS.

“As it was pointed out earlier, once people lose confidence, it’s hard to win it back,” Kaine said.  “We need to make sure the resources are there that will allow postal workers to do the job that they need.”