In recreation centers, school gymnasiums and civic halls across Hampton Roads on Tuesday, area voters will have their say in this year’s general election. The decisions they make will shape national, state and local fortunes for years to come.
While the races for U.S. House are critical and will shape how the federal government operates, those for local races — city council and school board seats — arguably have a greater influence over residents’ day-to-day lives than anything Congress does. Those bodies set property tax rates, make development and zoning decisions, take responsibility for trash collection, and help shape the success of public schools.
That means all the races on the ballot, top to bottom, require considerable research and careful deliberation. The results should reflect the will of the community — and they will so long as eligible voters take their civic duty seriously and participate today.
What follows are some tips and suggestions for making the most of the day as our communities engage in the exercise of democracy.
First, given the processing problems at the Virginia Department of Elections in recent months, it’s prudent to review your voter registration at vote.virginia.gov to ensure there you won’t have any surprises at your polling place. You can also call the department at (804) 864-8901, ext. 0.
If there are problems with your registration, don’t worry and certainly don’t let that keep you from casting a ballot. Thanks to the same-day voter registration that started this year in Virginia, those with wonky registrations can cast provisional ballots at their voting places and those will be counted in the final tally.
The commonwealth is fortunate to have that system in place, given the backlog of 149,000 voter registration forms and updates that were not processed for months. Local registrar officials have worked day and night to ensure all that paperwork has been addressed, but there are bound to be a few issues that pop up.
Persistence pays off, however. A faulty registration shouldn’t keep you from voting, nor should a late hour discourage you. Though polling places close at 7 p.m., anyone still in line at that time can still cast a ballot.
Also helpful is the fact that Election Day is a holiday in Virginia — Happy Election Day, everyone! — thanks to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2020 and signed into law by former Gov. Ralph Northam. (It should be a federal holiday since there are few days that are more consequential to our republic, but we’re still waiting for Congress to act on that.)
Hampton Roads Transit will again waive all fees for riders on Election Day, an important initiative that ensures those without reliable means of transportation can make it to the polls. HRT operates in six cities (Newport News, Hampton, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach) and the fare holiday includes bus, light rail, ferry, paratransit, and microtransit vehicles.
While plenty of people live near their voting places, there are many who do not. This effort by HRT helps address that and should be a model for mass transit systems nationwide. The fewer impediments to casting a ballot, the better.
One last request: When the polls close Tuesday night, those yard signs which dot every busy intersection, median strip and rural outpost in the region will instantly transform into roadside trash. Those who have spent the last few months insisting how much they love their community would do well to pick up all those signs from public rights-of-way to restore the natural attraction of our landscape. The public will be grateful for your doing so.
This will be a pivotal election. Some people will be elated at the results and others not at all, though we can all have faith and confidence in Virginia elections. Let us pledge that when the final tallies are reported, we can all work together to improve our communities, commonwealth and nation as best we can.