Friday, October 15, 2004

A nonpartisan volunteer group today is helping Virginia voters cast their ballots early to avoid any problems on Election Day.

The group Virginia Votes has begun its “Why risk it? Vote Now” initiative, and its volunteers will shuttle people at the Clarendon Day festival to the Arlington County Registrar’s Office.

Grass-roots organizers say it is a way voters “can make sure their voice is heard in the 2004 election.”

Virginia Votes spokesman Jim McBride said volunteers today will drive residents wishing to vote early from the Clarendon Metro stop to the registrar’s office, which is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays.

The office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and stays open until 9 p.m. Thursdays.

“The vans are for anyone who thinks there is any risk they might not be able to vote on Election Day,” Mr. McBride said. “It saves you the risk of showing up late and having a problem. People might face long lines at the polls and might face a lot of problems.”

Volunteers will work at the festival from noon to 5 p.m., and will hand out absentee ballot applications and information on how to vote early.

Virginia Votes also organized several voter registration drives around the state, which has registered a record number of new voters.

Fairfax County’s more than 3,000 election workers are encouraged to take advantage of in-person absentee voting before Nov. 2.

Many satellite absentee voting locations are listed on the county’s Web site (

Campaigns for President Bush and Sen. John Kerry have asked their supporters to vote early.

But early voting is not allowed in Maryland, said Donna Duncan, director of the state’s election management division.

Miss Duncan said absentee ballots can be cast only under strict circumstances, such as if the voter:

• Will be absent from the county on Election Day.

• Is suffering from an accident, illness or physical disability.

• Is confined in or restricted to an institution that might include jail or a hospital.

• Is tending to a death or serious illness in his or her family.

• Will have academic obligations at higher education outside the designated voting precinct but within the county.

• Is 65 or older and the polling place has been deemed inaccessible.

• Is an employee of the Board of Elections.

Virginia has similar restrictions but also allows residents to vote absentee if they will be working for at least 11 hours on Election Day or observing a religious obligation.

The District has restrictions similar to Maryland’s, but it also allows absentee voting for those sequestered for jury duty.

None of the jurisdictions allows for permanent absentee voting.

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