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Dems are still counting votes in 4th District primary

People stand in a line near a light-colored birck building
Voters in Tuesday's primary stand lined up outside Dogtown Dance Theatre in Richmond's Manchester neighborhood. (Photos: Scott Elmquist/VPM News)

As of Wednesday evening, Democrats are still counting about 26,500 votes from Tuesday’s 4th Congressional District firehouse primary.

“It’s clear that we have a lot of Democrats in the 4th Congressional District who are very excited about voting,” said Alexsis Rodgers, the party’s district chairperson.

The votes will determine the party’s candidate to fill the seat of Rep. Donald McEachin, who died from complications connected to cancer last month.

State Sens. Jennifer McLellan and Joe Morrissey are considered front-runners. Former Del. Joseph Preston and activist Tavorise Marks are also running.

For most of the day, a team of five volunteer vote counters — called tellers — were joined in a small conference room by four observers — two representing Morrissey, and one each representing McClellan and Preston. Marks did not send an observer.

“They’ve been counting since about 10 a.m. this morning,” said Liam Watson, acting press secretary for Virginia Democrats. “And I believe the plan is to continue counting until a nominee emerges.”

At around 2:30 p.m., the party decided to allow for additional volunteers. By 4:15 p.m., the number of tellers had increased to 11 in efforts to speed up the counting.

It’s not clear when the counting will be finished. During a 5 p.m. press conference, Rodgers said the volunteers have counted almost half of the ballots, but did not share a specific number. 

A nominee has to be certified by 5 p.m. Friday, per a deadline set by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s writ of election.

“We got hands, we got brains, we got calculators, and we’re getting it done,” Rodgers said.

Morrissey and Marks have criticized the party in recent days for how the primary’s been handled. Marks has also threatened a lawsuit alleging the party disenfranchised voters by holding a weekday primary with only eight polling locations. Rodgers said the party ran the most accessible election it could in the time allotted.

“Sure, we could have committed to 100 voting locations,” Rodgers said. “But if only one volunteer was at each, imagine the lines we’d have at those.”

The 4th District includes all or part of Brunswick, Charles City, Dinwiddie, Greensville, Prince George, Surry, Sussex, Chesterfield, Henrico and Southampton counties. It also includes the cities of Colonial Heights, Emporia, Hopewell, Petersburg and Richmond.

The 4th District special election will be held on Feb. 21, 2023. The winning Democratic candidate will run against Leon Benjamin, who won Saturday’s Republican Party canvass in Colonial Heights. Benjamin previously lost against McEachin in November’s general election as well as in 2020. 

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.