Impressive early voter participation

Published 10:35 am Friday, October 16, 2020

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By Sam Fowler and Titus Mohler

Capital News Service and The K-V Dispatch

In-person early voting turnout has been impressive in Virginia and consistently heavy in Lunenburg County. The voting period has not been without its hiccups, though.

When the question of how things were going was posed to Lunenburg County General Registrar Carolyn Parsons on Tuesday morning, Oct. 13, things were less than ideal.

“The state computer is down, so we’re at a standstill,” she said.

This meant that no one could vote at that time unless they wanted to use a provisional ballot.

“But everybody’s been very kind,” Parsons said. “They’re coming back later. They still have plenty of time to do it.”

The early voting period runs through Oct. 31.

Nevertheless, Parsons and her office had hopes that the state computer would be back up later in the day Tuesday.

“I’m sure the state is hustling,” she said.

This likely short-lived hang-up aside, many votes have been cast in Lunenburg County thus far through the in-person early voting option.

Parsons indicated voter turnout has been heavy from the start of the early voting period Sept. 18 to now.

“It’s a flow all day long,” she said, estimating that more than 50 people have come to vote per day.

She noted there are 7,900 voters in Lunenburg County and around 800 of them have arrived in person and voted early. This represents about 10% of the county’s voters and does not include absentee voters.

Parsons said she has also seen good participation from the county in terms of absentee ballot requests.

A Capital News Service report from Sam Fowler highlighted some key statewide numbers shedding light on voter enthusiasm and turnout thus far.

This year more than 1 million absentee ballots have been requested, Andrea Gaines, director of community relations at the Virginia Department of Elections, said in an email. Around 370,000 absentee ballots have been returned as of Thursday, Oct. 8.

Early, in-person voting has also yielded a large turnout. More than 420,000 people have voted in-person as of Oct. 8.

“It is the largest turnout we have seen at this time of year in Virginia,” Gaines said.

This is the first year there has been no-excuse absentee voting and a 45-day early voting period. The General Assembly recently passed a host of voting reform bills to allow for these changes.

A record number of more than 5.8 million Virginians had registered to vote as of Aug. 31, when looking at records that go back to 1976. More than 5.5 million voters were registered in the 2016 presidential election year, and turnout that year hit 72%.

Nationwide initiatives such as National Voter Registration Day, which occurred Sept. 22, broke new ground. An estimated 1.5 million people registered to vote nationally during the event this year, the largest number of registrations since the campaign started in 2012, according to the organization’s website. Celebrities got involved to help the cause trend on Twitter with #NationalVoterRegistrationDay.

Important upcoming deadlines include Oct. 23 to request an absentee ballot by mail and Oct. 31 to request an absentee ballot in person. All absentee ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by noon on the third day after the election.