RICHMOND — Voters begin going to the polls Friday in this battleground state, where Republicans and Democrats continue wrangling over voter ID laws, and elections officials were warning Virginians to ignore “misleading” letters about their registration status.
Voters who cannot make it to the polls on Election Day may cast their ballots in person at their local elections offices starting Friday. In-person absentee voting continues through Nov. 5.
Virginia does not offer early voting to all voters, as some other states do. But it allows people to vote absentee — with mail-in ballots or in person — if they fit certain categories. Those include voters who will be away at college or on business trips and vacations, who have long commutes or religious obligations, are first responders or active-duty members of the military or are in jail awaiting trial.
In-person absentee voting will be offered during weekday business hours, which vary across the state. The option also will be available on two Saturdays, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.
The deadline to register or update an address ahead of the Nov. 8 election is Oct. 17.
On Thursday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) announced a push to get Virginia high school students registered. Schools that register at least 65 percent of their voting-age students by April will receive a congratulatory certificate from the governor.
As of late August, 48,832 high school-age voters had registered. The total eligible to vote in the state was not immediately available Thursday.
The governor’s challenge will officially kick off Tuesday, on National Voter Registration Day.
“It is important to teach younger Virginians that voting is a civic responsibility and encourage students to engage in the process by registering to vote,” McAuliffe said in a written statement.
As in-person absentee voting was set to begin, lawyers for both political parties and the state Board of Elections squared off Thursday in a federal appeals court in Richmond over a requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls.
Earlier this week, state elections officials warned that some voters may have received mailings that suggested their voter registration status was in question.
Edgardo Cortés, the state’s elections commissioner, said the mailings came from at least two organizations, America’s Future and the Voter Participation Center.
“Letters sent by these organizations have reportedly been addressed to individuals who were already properly registered, are not qualified to register at the mailing address used, or are deceased,” Cortés said in a statement. “Although these letters include our street address and contact information, these letters did not come from the Department and are not official election mail.”
Cortés said voters can confirm their registration status through the Department of Elections.
Officials with America’s Future, a conservative group based in St. Louis, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Washington-based Voter Participation Center bills itself as nonpartisan but targets groups that tend to lean Democratic, including racial minorities, millennials and unmarried women.
Page Gardner, the center’s president, said the group never intended to send registration forms to anyone ineligible to vote. She said mistakes — such as registration forms sent to dead people or pets — represent “a very, very small percentage” of the group’s mailings, which numbered 500,000 in Virginia and 11 million nationwide.
Gardner said the center uses a commercial mailing list to target unregistered voters. The dead can wind up on a mailing list because it is compiled from things such as magazine subscriptions, which she said often are not updated with a new name when the family member dies. Some people also have subscriptions in the names of their pets.