Suffolk to allow one day of Sunday voting

Published 7:01 pm Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Suffolk Electoral Board has approved one day of Sunday voting in October.

By a 2-1 vote, the board decided at its Sept. 14 meeting to allow for in-person early voting for eligible voters in the city from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 24 at the Voter Registration Office at 440 Market St., on the first floor.

Board members Beverly Outlaw and Rev. Isaac Baker voted in favor, and board chairwoman Erin Rice voted against.

During the 2021 General Assembly session, legislators voted to amend state code to give localities the option to provide voting in person on Sundays. Previously, in-person absentee voting has only been provided Mondays through Fridays and on two Saturdays prior to Election Day. This year, Election Day is Nov. 2, and voters no longer need to provide an excuse demonstrating why they will be absent on Election Day to vote early.

Rice, in voting no, said in an email that it was important to give employees of the city registrar’s office time off, especially since the majority of them work part-time and work hard throughout the year, especially during the election season.

“They consistently rise to the occasion and I strongly feel it is important to give these individuals a day off,” Rice said. “As it stands now, these individuals likely will be required to be in the office more than three weeks straight. Additionally, a majority of those that provide(d) feedback on the availability of Sunday voting expressed a desire against it because of all the other ways to cast your ballot.”

In an online survey, there were 28 comments opposed to Sunday voting, while seven supported the proposal.

Those supporting Sunday voting said voting access should be available in as many ways as possible, and that some people with non-traditional work schedules or transportation difficulties would benefit from it.

Opponents of Sunday voting cited several reasons. Among them: voting should only be done on Election Day, enough days are available to vote already, preserving voter integrity, providing for a day off for employees, too much cost for taxpayers, and Sunday being a day for family and faith, not voting.

According to the minutes from the board’s Aug. 3 meeting, Baker called voter registration offices across the region to determine which ones would be open for Sunday voting. Larger cities such as Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Newport News and Hampton indicated they “were going to be open on a Sunday with minimal operational hours, while the counties were more likely not going to be open on Sundays,” the minutes stated. Those not opening cited a lack of need and that it was not feasible financially.

Chesapeake, Hampton and Newport News are all offering one day of Sunday voting in October, and Norfolk is offering it on two Sundays in October at satellite locations. Virginia Beach will also have one day of Sunday voting in October, and it is allowing its eligible voters to drop off ballots 24/7 through 7 p.m. Nov. 2 at a designated dropbox.

Franklin, along with Isle of Wight, Surry and Southampton counties, are not offering Sunday voting.

City residents can also drop off their ballots 24/7 at one of three locations in the city through Election Day at the North Suffolk Library at 2000 Bennetts Creek Park Road, the Voter Registration Office at 440 Market St. and at the Suffolk Executive Airport at 1200 Gene Bolton Drive. Those drop boxes are under camera surveillance.

Besides the one day of Sunday voting, in-person early voting is available at the Voter Registration Office from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with Saturday hours from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Oct. 23 and Oct. 30.

Eligible city voters who are not able or who prefer not to vote at their polling place on Election Day can request a Virginia Vote by Mail application by calling 757-514-7750 or by going to www.elections.virginia.gov. The deadline for residents to apply for a ballot to be mailed to them is Oct. 22. The last day for in-person early voting in Suffolk is Oct. 30.

In-person voting will be available at polling places throughout the city from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. Nov. 2, with social distancing observed and mask-wearing encouraged.