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Prince William rents billboard to encourage absentee voting, but it’s hard to see from the road

Elections officials have an important message they want to get out to voters.

Drivers, however, may have to squint, turn their heads away from the road, or look behind trees to see it.

A roadside billboard near the intersection of Routes 1 and 234 in Dumfries urges anyone who plans to commute outside of Prince William County on Election Day November 8 to vote absentee. Commuting to and from home for more than 11 hours between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Election Day is one of nearly 20 allowable reasons Virginia voters may request to vote by absentee ballot.

Other absentee exceptions include students attending classes at a university outside their home district, those with disabilities, military, police, and fire and rescue personnel, and those with religious obligations on Election Day.

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The view looking south on Route 1 toward Dumfries Town Hall and Quantico. Traffic closest to the camera is headed north.

The county’s Office of Elections spent $3,262 to rent the billboard that targets drivers on Route 1 south for about three months. The billboard sits at least 200 feet away from the roadway forcing to drivers to look to the east across the northbound lanes of Route 1 to see it and is located behind trees that make it nearly impossible to see for drivers sitting at the Route 1 / 234 intersection.

The Lamar Advertising Company owns the billboard, as well as others along Route 1 in Fredericksburg and Stafford. The billboard rented by the office of elections in Dumfries is the most northerly-located billboard that Lamar rents along Route 1 in Northern Virginia, according to a salesman in Lamar’s Richmond office.

Lamar’s billboards on Route 1 between Fredericksburg and Dumfries are rented at rates between $850 per month for standard billboards, and up to $2,000 a month “on the high side” for changing-display digital billboards, according to the Lamar salesman we spoke with.

Carryover monies from last year’s voter education fund were used to purchase the voter billboard. Prince William County General Registrar Michele White said she designed the advertisement that was posted on the billboard but did not have a say as to what billboard would be used to display the ad.

This is the only billboard purchased by the Office of Elections for this voter education effort. White said there were no other available billboards in the county during the timeframe she needed them, in the months of August, September, and October leading up to the Nov. 8, 2016 General Election, when she authorized the billboard purchase in May.

“If I could have done it my way, I would have had a few more billboards more strategically placed, but that was the one that was available in the timeframe that we needed it and it seems like it was the best option at the time,” explained White.

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The view looking south on Route 1 toward Dumfries Town Hall and Quantico. Traffic closest to the camera is headed north.

Ballot questions

Absentee ballots may be requested by visiting the Virginia Department of Elections website and requesting a ballot by 5 p.m. Nov. 1, 2016. Absentee voters may also go to one of four absentee polling places that will open in Prince William County on Saturday, Oct. 22, and will be open each Saturday until Nov. 5, the last Saturday before Election Day.

During the Presidential Election of 2012, long lines formed at Potomac Middle School, where voters waited to cast their votes long after the 7 p.m. closings of the polls. Once in line, voters were still allowed to cast their votes.

Large crowds, a lack of machines, and long-worded constitutional ballot questions slowed down the voting process at many polling places that day.

While the county has purchased more, new voting machines, this year is shaping up to be more of the of the same when it comes to the ballot questions.

There are two this year: One, if approved, would place Virginia’s Right to Work law permanently into the state’s constitution, and the second, if approved, would stop localities from collecting Real Estate taxes from spouses whose partners who worked in law enforcement, fire and rescue, and search and rescue that were killed in the line of duty.

“We do wish the General Assembly would pass a bill that would pass a bill that would prevent having these long ballot questions in presidential election years because that really contributes to the problems. A lot of people get to the polls don’t realize the questions are on the ballot and have no idea of how to respond to them,” said White.

The deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration, for the November 8, General Election is Monday, October 17. The deadline to request an absentee ballot by appearing in-person is 5 p.m. Saturday, November 5.

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