Over 62,000 Virginians ventured out to the polls on a sunny November day for the last chance to vote early. The early voting period saw 776,931 votes cast, with most of it done in person, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. Absentee mail-in ballots are still being accepted.
Although early turnout is not as high as the past two years, “it’s pretty healthy,” according to Alex Keena, an associate professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Democrats, who traditionally have higher early turnout rates, invested a lot of money into early voting for this election, according to Keena. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s endorsement of early voting, through a bus tour and poll visits, seems to have helped combat Republican skepticism. Republican early voting in person and by mail increased this year, according to VPAP.
“People have changed how they vote … it’s good to provide people more options,” Keena said.
Early voters like having the 45-day window before Election Day, and said it makes it easier to vote. “I wouldn’t really have a ton of time on Tuesday,” said Jesse Houser, who cast an early vote at the west Henrico County registrar’s office on Saturday. “It’s just nice to not have a flood of people, it spreads out a bit.”
There was a steady line, but voter Alexander Appea said it moved quickly. “I was gonna vote on Tuesday, but my wife wanted to vote because she’s working on Tuesday,” Appea said.
A series of laws passed in recent years to make voting easier includes the state’s recognition of Election Day as a holiday. “I have the day off, I’m a state worker, but it’s still easier to come out on a Saturday afternoon,” said Doreen Richmond. “The sun’s out, it’s pretty, I’d rather do it on my time.”
Others added civic duty to the “to-do” list on Saturday. “I work full-time, I would be able to get off work to go vote but it makes it easier to knock all my errands out in one day,” said Emily Bradford.
Youngkin also stopped by the bustling poll place Saturday afternoon and was joined by several of the Henrico County-area candidates.
VCU Votes is a course and also a separate coalition of students, faculty and staff members. The organization hosted one of its many tabling events on Saturday. Volunteers informed students about same-day registration, what a provisional ballot is, and asked them to pledge to go vote — or “Ram the Vote,” a nod to the school mascot.
Virginia voters now have same-day registration, which means they can still vote in person on Tuesday, Nov. 7 even if they missed the registration deadline. They can register in person and immediately vote with a provisional ballot.
“We’re going to probably see a higher turnout,” said Lauren Hagemeister, a student currently enrolled in the class. “Especially with new methods of voting.”
House and Senate Democrats joined state Democratic party officials at the new General Assembly building on Friday to discuss voter protection. The press conference followed an announcement earlier in the week that an estimated 3,400 Virginians with felony convictions had been purged from voter rolls in an administrative error. The names have since been reinstated, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.
All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election this year. Republicans hope to flip the Senate, and keep the House. That victory would lead to a Republican trifecta under the leadership of Youngkin, something the state has not seen in a decade.
Control of each chamber comes down to a smaller number of races. There are 11 ranked as competitive by VPAP, and a handful of others that will come down to turnout. Many pundits consider Virginia a bellwether state, and the upcoming election a preview of how the next presidential election might lean. The statehouse races have shattered fundraising from 2019, with over $158 million raised between all candidates.
Locke urged voters to have their voices heard, and make a voting plan. “Let’s make a plan,” Locke said. “It is critically important that we all participate in this society, in this democracy, in this common world.”
Polls will be open on Tuesday, Nov. 7 from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. People with a disability can utilize curbside voting and other accessibility provisions. Voters who need a ride to the polls have several options statewide, including rides provided by both parties.
– By Gen York / Capital News Service