Following an executive order from Gov. Ralph Northam, local elections in 15 Hampton Roads municipalities will be two weeks later than planned.

Northam said he wanted to avoid spreading the coronavirus. It happened in Wisconsin, where state officials held elections on time and dozens of people contracted the virus at the polls.

“Elections are vital to democracy and so is the right to vote,” Northam said at a press conference last week. “But Virginians should not have to choose between the ballot and their health.”

He wanted the General Assembly to move the May 5 elections to November, when voters will also cast ballots for president. Virginia’s constitution allows the governor to move elections up to two weeks by issuing an executive order. Anything further out has to be approved by lawmakers.

At the veto session April 22, the General Assembly narrowly voted down Northam’s request.

In light of that, Northam said he “strongly suggested” voters cast absentee ballots to avoid going in person. The state plans to give poll workers personal protective equipment to provide some safety for those who must go in person.

The deadline to register to vote in the May 19 elections has passed.

In-person absentee voting, used in normal election years for people who still want to vote in person but before Election Day, is underway and ends May 16.

Voters have until 5 p.m. May 12 to request an absentee ballot from their local registrars or online. Completed absentee ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. election night.

Typically, voters must provide a reason for using an absentee ballot. Northam’s executive order said voters using absentee ballots for May elections may mark that they must vote absentee for a “disability or illness reason.”

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has continued to climb by the hundreds in the state, according to Virginia Department of Health data. Northam said for restrictions placed on social gatherings and businesses can loosen when the state sees downward trends in the number of confirmed cases and hospitalizations for 14 days.

That will require more testing, he said. Right now, less than one percent of Virginia’s state population has been tested.