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Chesterfield Voters Split on Absentee Expansions

Men outside car
Two elections officers help voters cast their ballots curbside, an option available for Virginian's 65 and older or with disabilities. (Photo: Alex Scribner/VPM News)

More voters are casting their ballots on days other than Election Day this year than ever before. While many may have been spurred to vote early by COVID-19, much of the legislation making it possible was passed before the pandemic swept the nation.

The General Assembly passed a suite of bills over the past two years to make voting more accessible. These changes include getting rid of the requirement to provide an excuse to vote absentee and legislation permitting  early voting satellite locations

Chesterfield residents have taken advantage of these locations this year with 43,994 voters casting their ballots at one of the county’s four satellite locations as of October 29. That’s about half of all early, in-person ballots, according to the Registrar’s Office.

The most popular location in the county is the North Courthouse Road Library, where 20,090 people have voted. One voter who cast his ballot there on Friday was Keith Wood, who said he wanted to make sure he remained safe while he voted.

“COVID had more to do with it than anything,” he said. “And just fearing the lines that may be experienced.”

Matthew and Malia Gregory also voted on Friday, and they shared Wood’s sentiment. They hoped to avoid crowds and protect their son, who recently received a bone marrow transplant. Matthew noted, however, that they may have hit the crowds anyway as the line stretched outside the building.

They said they’re glad the legislature expanded early voting and hope it drives more people to the polls.

“I don’t think it’s bad for more people to be involved in the government and be involved in the elections,” Matthew said. “Yeah, I say anything they can do to eliminate obstacles for people to exercise their right is a good thing,” Malia added.

Across the state, nearly 2.5 million ballots have already been cast, about 60% of all votes cast in 2016.

Despite this turnout, some voters don’t feel quite as warmly toward absentee voting. George Morehead said he came out to vote Friday to avoid traffic on election day, but argued the General Assembly may have gone too far.

“Polling is, seems to be safer and more honest,” Morehead said. “Ever since they found those ballots in the trash can, I just don’t trust mail-in or anything else.” 

It’s not just voters these changes affect. LaVon Dixon worked the polls on Friday. She said she’s worked as an elections officer for the past 5 or 6 years, and she hasn’t noticed any problems with the early voting expansion.

“It's been going really good. The wait time is probably about, maybe six to ten minutes, and the voters have been really pleased with that. We think that satellite locations have been going really great for us this year,” she said.

Dixon hopes the satellite locations become a permanent fixture in Virginia.

“It gives people a variety to choose from what times,” she said. “We’ve been open for hours. We’re even open on Saturdays. And I think that’s a good thing.”

 

Connor Scribner is a former VPM News assistant editor.
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