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Surovell: It’s time for local governments to invest in early voting

In Virginia, we have elections every year.  This year, we even have three including a special election for school board on August 29 and then elections for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and State Delegate on November 7. 

Turnout in our state and local elections plummets. In my experience, a large reason is that voting takes precious time away from jobs and families and given Northern Virginia traffic, time is at a premium.

That’s why I have been encouraging everyone to vote by mail. Most people do not realize how easy it is and most people also do not realize they are even eligible.  If you work outside  your home county, if you cannot stand in line for long periods, are an out of town college student, on vacation or leaving the county for ten minutes on election day, a first responder, or have a commute and workday longer than eleven hours, you can vote early by mail. 

Last year, over 34,000 Prince William and Stafford citizens either voted early in-person or voted by mail.  In Fairfax County, over 120,000 voted early.  There is no reason that should not happen every year and in larger numbers.

While I fully support no excuse early voting, that has yet to pass in Richmond for political reasons.  But there are things that our local government could do to make voting early easier. 

First, I developed a website that allows voters to submit applications to vote early electronically to the every registrar in Virginia.  It takes about 2 minutes to complete online. You can use it at scottsurovell.com/votebymail.  Early locality could and should embed a similar tool on the official voting website. 

Next, we should open satellite early voting locations like the one at the Woodbridge DMV, Ferlazzo Government Center, Prince William Government Center, and Stafford County Government Center for more days longer hours. 

We should also have more satellite voting locations. Every person getting on the Virginia Railway Express can vote early.  There should be early voting stations there.  The Dumfries Government Center should have a voting location along with the Montclair Community Library and other sites in Stafford like the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. 

Lastly, localities should provide postage prepaid envelopes for voters to return their ballots. You would be shocked how many people – especially Millennials – do not have stamps at home nowadays.

Facilitating more early voting will require more election officers and thus more money, but shorter lines and fewer disruptions save all of us time on Election Day and encourages more participation in our democracy. Our community is a great place to live because we have such engaged citizens. Encouraging democratic participation will only make it better.

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