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Absentee Vote Sets Record for Off-Off Year Elections

I voted stickers in virginia's elections
Stickers offered in Virginia's June primary elections (Yasmine Jumaa/VPM News)

Nearly 75,000 Virginians have already submitted absentee ballots as of Monday, breaking records for “off-off” year General Assembly elections.

The figure is likely to grow over the next week, with absentee ballots pouring into registrars’ offices through election day on November 5.

With little competition and no big statewide races, off-off year votes often suffer from low voter interest and turnout. At the last such vote in 2015, less than a third of registered voters cast ballots, and around 63,000 cast absentee ballots.

That was before the election of President Trump, whose 2016 election is widely credited with bumps in voter turnout in 2017 state elections and 2018 midterms. Those votes also set Virginia records for absentee voting, according to Department of Elections data.

Both elections saw sweeping wins for Democrats, who are now bullish on their odds of regaining control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1995.

Some registrars are reporting even higher spikes than the statewide totals. In Chesterfield County, registrar Constance Hargrove said her office tallied over 6,200 votes as of Monday morning, compared to 2,406 total absentee ballots in 2015.

“I kind of expected some of it because there’s more competition on the ballot in Chesterfield County than there has been in years,” Hargrove said.

In 2015, about half of the 140 General Assembly districts had only one name on the ballot, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. This year, only 29% of candidates are running uncontested.

Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, said in a call last week that the group’s analysis of polling and data “has consistently shown we will flip both chambers.”

Republicans privately say they have little hope for the state senate, but feel better about maintaining control of the House of Delegates. 

Hargrove said she’s ordering double the usual amount of absentee ballots for 2020 elections, in part because of a new law that allows one week of “no-excuse” absentee voting. Voters currently have to provide a reason for voting early.

“You don’t know if they’re going to vote absentee or you don’t know if they’re going to show up on election day,” she said.

The deadline for requesting a mail-in absentee ballot for 2019 is Tuesday at 5 PM. Voters can continue to vote absentee in person at their registrars’ office through November 2. Mail-in absentee votes must be received by 7 PM on election day, November 5, to be counted.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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