RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – In an official opinion issued Wednesday, Attorney General Mark Herring says guns are banned near early voting locations when they are being used as a polling place.
Herring concludes that a new law prohibiting firearms within 40 feet of all polling places in Virginia applies to early voting locations. But the attorney general contends the rule only applies “to the 40-foot boundary around the discrete portion of that building that is used as the polling place,” not the whole building.
“No Virginian should ever feel unsafe when they are voting whether they are voting in person on Election Day or whether they are voting in person early,” Herring said in a statement.
Albemarle County Electoral Board Chairman Peter Wurzer requested the formal opinion from Herring’s office. Wurzer asked whether central absentee voter precincts, voter satellite offices and offices of general registrars are considered as polling places during the early voting period, if the law applies to those locations and whether it includes the polling areas or the entire building.
Guns are banned within the 40-foot boundary, including entrances and exits, around those specific locations, Herring wrote in the three-page opinion. Under the law, only law enforcement officers are permitted to possess a firearm within the boundary.
Before the pandemic hit Virginia, the state legislature approved a bill allowing people to vote absentee without an excuse. The change in the rule and the uncertainty surrounding the new virus, election officials said, prompted the unprecedented early voting figures during the 2020 presidential election.
Nearly three million ballots were cast in Virginia before polls opened in November 2020. This year, more than 120,000 people voted early in the June 8 primary, which did not have Republican statewide candidates on the ballot, according to data from the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
New laws aimed at expanding voter access in Virginia took effect in July, including legislation allowing early voting on Sundays and preserving access to ballot drop boxes.
The first day of early in-person voting in Virginia is Sept. 17.