RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Department of Elections said two big changes could lead to absentee results reported earlier than last year when the results from 2.8 million absentee ballots were not reported until late night.
More than 788,000 Virginians so far this election have either cast their vote early in-person or by mail, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Of those early votes, VPAP reported that some 228,600 have been by mail.
In order to counter a potential backlog this year, Virginia Department of Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said that local registrars are now required to start processing mail-in ballots seven days out from Election Day.
That is where elections workers check to see if a ballot has all the necessary information in order to be counted or if they need to contact that voter in order to correct it, which is known as curing a ballot.
"By the time they get to Election Day, they should be able to quickly move through the remaining absentee ballots and be able to tabulate the votes shortly after the polls close on election night," Piper said. "And so that means that we won't be waiting till late in the night for the initial absentee by mail ballots to come in. They should come in fairly soon after the polls close."
Additionally, officials will also break up absentee results by type since they will have already separated mail-in and early in-person ballots.
"And of course, just like elections in the past, everybody who went to vote in the precincts on Election Day, those will be called in as the night goes on," Piper said.
As far as election security, Piper said there are no known threats at this time.
"We're feeling very confident about our posture, our security posture," Piper said.
As for security when it comes to health amid the ongoing pandemic, state and local officials said some COVID protocols remain in place.
"Making sure that we are maintaining the six feet social distance, my election officers will be wearing face masks," Richmond Registrar Keith Balmer said.
Meanwhile, Hanover County Registrar Teri Smithson said there is another measure in place this year that voters should know about: firearms are banned within 40 feet of a polling place.
"Leave the firearm, you know, in their vehicle, but not to bring it within the 40 foot area or inside a polling place," Smithson advised.
Piper stressed that everything is unofficial Election night as results are not certified locally for a week and then statewide on Nov. 15.
Add the fact that mail-in ballots are accepted for three days after — if post-marked by Election Day — and Piper said that in really close races it could be some time before we see a clear winner.
"What happens in the days and weeks following [election night] is that the electoral boards and localities are working hard to review those initial results, there will be corrections that need to be made," said Piper. "Virginia has a change law that's available on our website. So, any corrections that are made to election night results are cataloged and a change reason has to be provided. This is part of the normal process...We want to make sure everybody understands that as we go through the certification of the election, that there are times where we find things that need correction and that's absolutely normal."
Piper said local electoral boards have until Nov. 9 to certify local results and pass on their statewide results to the state board, which then rechecks them.
"Then the state board will meet to certify the statewide elections as well as the House of Delegates elections on November 15. And then that is when the results are finally official," added Piper.
Early in-person voting ends this Saturday. Polls will be open on Election Day, Tuesday. Nov. 2, from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
CBS 6 has a guide to the 2021 elections that can be found here.
A list of new laws in effect in 2021 can be found here.
Key Dates and Deadlines in Virginia
Friday, Sept. 17: Early, In-Person Voting Begins
Thursday, Oct. 12: Voter Registration Deadline
Friday, Oct. 22: Request Absentee/Mail-In Ballot Deadline
Saturday, Oct. 30: Early, In-Person Voting Ends
Tuesday, Nov. 2 is Election Day: In-Person Voting from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 2: Absentee/Mail-In Postmark by Date
Friday, Nov. 5: Absentee/Mail-In Delivered By Date