Select your state to learn more about how elections are run. PLEASE NOTE: We currently only have information regarding Virginia elections. Please check back as we add more states in the coming months!
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Who is in charge of elections at the state level in Virginia?
In Virginia, the Department of Elections administers and oversees the election process. The Department is a nonpolitical organization that is designed to promote and support fair, secure and open elections in Virginia. The Department includes the State Board of Elections (BOE) which is responsible for overseeing, coordinating, and governing the work of local election officials and election registrars under Virginia’s statute. In addition to overseeing the work of local election officers and registrars, the BOE oversees all aspects of voter registration, provides absentee ballots, and assists eligible military and overseas voters.
The Governor may appoint members to fill vacancies on the BOE. Virginia law requires that three of the five members of the BOE must be of the same political party that received the highest number of votes in the preceding gubernatorial race. The remaining vacancies must be filled by members of the political party that received the second highest number of votes in the preceding gubernatorial race.
What is the process for verifying voter eligibility when a person registers to vote?
At the time of registration, a new voter is required to provide their valid Virginia ID or license number, their date of birth, residence address, and citizenship status as part of their application, among other requirements. The Department of Elections reviews these voter applications and ensures that each person that is eligible is registered to vote. See VA Code § 24.2-404(A)(3).
General registrars in each election precinct enter the names of all registered voters in their jurisdiction into Virginia’s voter registration database. The registrar routinely updates that database with any changes to a registered voter under VA Code § 24.2-404(A)(4).
How often are voting rolls reviewed? By who?
Under VA Code § 24.2-404(F), the Department of Elections provides a yearly report to the Committees on Privileges and Elections by October 1. The report details the Department of Election audits and activities to maintain the accuracy of Virginia’s voting roll. The Department employs a “List Maintenance Team.” The Team checks the voter registration rolls monthly and makes the registration statistics publicly available here. Every month, the Team checks the voting rolls against death records, convictions, and voters who have moved out of state. There is also a process for removing individuals a court has deemed incapacitated to vote. All ineligible voters are removed from Virginia’s voter rolls.
What criteria are there for selecting voting machines?
Virginia law requires voting machines meet specific criteria. A machine must (among other things):
- Provide instructions to voters on how to mark and select their choice(s) on their ballot and cast their vote.
- Be usable for all primary elections, but able to be programmed to prevent voters from casting ballots in primaries that are not registered for.
- Enable the voter to cast a vote on any question on which he is lawfully permitted to vote, but no other.
- Provide the voter with an opportunity to correct any error before a ballot is cast.
- Correctly and accurately record and count all votes cast.
- It must have a “protective counter,” where any operation of the machine before or after the election will be detected.
- It must have a counter which shows how many persons have voted at all times during an election.
- Ensure that voting is done in absolute secrecy. Ballot scanner machines must have a method to conceal the voted ballot.
- It must retain each printed ballot cast.
How do we select manufactures/machines?
All voting machine vendors must apply to the State Board of Elections. Virginia law requires machines to meet rigorous safety standards.
The BOE evaluates the machine’s security and functionality before a machine can be used in a Virginia election. If the machine passes state testing, the BOE appoints an independent consultant to conduct a final review to determine if the voting machine meet Virginia standards. After passing these two rounds of evaluation, the machine is then field tested in an actual or simulated election to determine its efficacy and security in practice.
As a final step, the State Board will notify both political parties and allow representatives to inspect the machines themselves.
How are voting machines secured prior to Election Day?
All voting machines are sealed with a numbered seal or locked with a key. Political party representatives must certify the number on the seal and the number registered on the protective counter for each machine. If no party or candidate representative is present, a machine custodian will seal the device as prescribed by Virginia law.
How are voting machines secured during Elections?
The exterior of the voting equipment must be in plain view of poll workers at all times. However, the machine must be far enough away to preserve the secrecy of the voter’s ballot. One poll worker must inspect the face of the voting machine after each voter has cast their vote to verify that the ballots are in their proper places and the machine has not been damaged. The door covering the counter compartment of any voting machine during the voting process. Finally, strict rules govern who can be present when voting is not taking place.
What are the requirements for voting machine security after an election?
Following an election, the equipment keys or data storage devices containing counts and other relevant information will be removed and enclosed in an envelope, and the voting machines will be locked. Each envelope will have an endorsed certificate containing the following information:
- The election precinct.
- The number of each voting machine.
- The number on the seal.
- The number of the protective counter.
A poll worker promptly delivers the sealed envelope to the circuit court clerk in the jurisdiction where the election occurred. See VA Code § 24.2-659.
What safeguards are in place to ensure that machine counts are accurate?
Virginia law requires independent electronic or engineering consultants to confirm that each voting machine is capable of storing and retaining vote counts during and after voting in the event of a power outage at a polling location. VA Code § 24.2-629(D).
To ensure the accuracy of machine counts on Election Day, the officer of elections for each jurisdiction must examine all voting machines under their supervision to ensure that the count on each machine reads “zero” prior to the opening of polls. Virginia law requires that voting machines and counting devices must remain in plain view so officers may identify any tampering during voting. However, at no point can an election officer be so close to a voting machine that they are able to see how a voter voted. Election Officers are also required to verify that the ballots on the face of the machine are in their proper places and that the machine has not been damaged. See VA Code § 24.2-638.
Virginia law provides additional measures to maintain the accuracy of the vote. For example, Virginia prohibits wireless communications between or among voting machines while polls are open. Voting machines are disconnected from any external inputs during voting. See VA Code § 24.2-625.2.
In addition, Virginia law requires that voting machines retain each ballot that is cast for audit and recount purposes. See VA Code § 24.2-629.
Is manufacturer/machine selection open to the public?
The public may observe manufacturer and machine selection. Local Electoral Board meetings are open to the public, including those where the board makes a decision about which voting machines will be used, are open to the public. See page 7 of Department of Elections handbook.
Voting & Ballots
Can voters cast a ballot in person prior to election day (early in-person voting)?
Who can obtain an absentee ballot?
How are absentee ballots returned?
What safeguards are in place to ensure that fraudulent absentee ballots are not counted?
All absentee (mail-in) ballots must be accompanied by a voter affirmation statement. If a ballot is missing a voter affirmation statement, the voter registration office will contact the voter within three days of receiving the ballot; and the voter will be asked to correct the ballot. The ballot must be corrected by noon on the third day after the election. See VA Code § 24.2-709.1.
What safeguards are in place to ensure that only absentee ballots submitted by the deadline are counted?
There are two methods to ensure that absentee ballots are submitted by the deadline: the use of “drop-boxes” and postmarks. The Department of Elections provides “drop-boxes” for absentee ballots from the time early voting starts through Election Day. Ballots dropped off in these locations are collected at least once a day by election officials. See VA Code § 24.2-707.1. Alternatively, ballots can be mailed in. The Post Office should postmark all mail-in ballots the day they are received. Ballots that are not either dropped in in a designated drop box by Election Day or mailed in and postmarked by Election Day are not eligible to be counted. See VA Code § 24.2-709.
How do election officials determine whether absentee ballots have been returned by the deadline?
Absentee ballots, postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the voter’s local registrar’s office by noon the week after an election will be counted. If a ballot does not have a postmark and is received after Election Day, the registrar will reject the ballot.
In lieu of mailing in their ballot, voters may also drop-off their ballots in person at a drop-off location before an election or on Election Day. Two election officers collect ballots at the drop-off locations daily. On Election Day, each polling location must be equipped with a drop-off location where voters may return their absentee ballots. These drop-off locations are open until the end of voting on Election Day.
How are poll workers selected? Are they paid?
In Virginia, poll workers are referred to as an “Officer of Election.” Any registered voter can apply to be an officer. Each political party also files a list of nominations for the officer position. The Election Board selects election officers from a pool of applicants and party nominations.
In practice, the Local Election Board usually chooses election officers from the list of party nominations. Additionally, the Election Board can appoint voters when there are not enough available nominations. Election officers are paid $200 for working on Election Day.
Who is permitted to be present at polls on election day besides voters and election officials?
The people who are authorized to be present at the polls, besides poll workers and voters, are:
- Poll workers, also called election officers, are paid volunteers who assist with the successful administration of the election.
- Election observers, either neutral observers or those representing a political party or independent candidate, are permitted in the polling location. Election observers must obtain permission from election officials at the polling location prior to observing the voting process, and they cannot interfere with voters or the election process.
- Members of the media are permitted in the polling location, but cannot conduct interviews inside the polling location.
- Additionally, high school students who have not reached voting age can act as election day pages to observe and assist the electoral process.
Who/what body certifies election results at the state level?
The State Board of Elections certifies election results for all state level elected officials, including races for federal office, and transmits this certification to the appropriate representatives in the legislature.
What is the partisan affiliation of people who certify vote totals at the state and local level?
Virginia law requires both parties are involved in the certification process. See VA Code § 24.2-680.
Each locality in Virginia also has its own local election board, which is responsible for certifying elections within their jurisdiction. See VA Code § 24.2-671. Each local board has three court-appointed members. The political party that received the most votes in the most recent gubernatorial race retains two of the three seats. The third, remaining seat, is awarded the the political party that received the second most votes in the previous gubernatorial race. See VA Code § 24.2-102.
At the state-level, the Board of elections is responsible for certifying the election. Virginia law requires that three of the five members of the BOE must be of the same political party that received the highest number of votes in the preceding gubernatorial race. The remaining vacancies must be filled by members of the political party that received the second highest number of votes in the preceding gubernatorial race.
Under what circumstances can a recount be requested? By who?
In Virginia, a recount can be requested to determine the winner of an elected office and for ballot questions. In both instances, a recount can only be requested if the margin of victory is within a certain percentage point. The person requesting the recount must wait until after the election is certified and must file their petition for a recount with the appropriate court.
A recount can only be requested by the apparent losing candidate of an election.
For ballot questions, a recount can be requested if fifty or more voters file a petition with the State or the local electoral board. A recount may be requested for ballot questions when the difference between success or defeat is less than 50 votes or less than one percent of the total votes cast. See VA Code § 24.2-800.
Who performs official, state-sponsored audits?
The Department of Elections conducts post-election risk-limiting audits on voting machines on an annual basis after elections in the Commonwealth. The guidelines for this process are detailed in VA Code § 24.2-671.2. Virginia law requires selected localities to conduct a randomized hand count of ballots as a risk limiting audit. The hand count continues until there is either strong statistical evidence that the reported election results are correct or if the evidence does not confirm the results of the election. The results of the state’s audits are publicly available.
Local election boards and the general registrar conduct risk limiting audits under the supervision of the Department of Elections. Risk limiting audits are open to the public.
The Virginia Department of Elections provides information on where voters can observe the ballot retrieval and auditing process in their locality.