3 voters hit the polls as Fairfax County voting opens

FAIRFAX COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER — With a shout from an elections staffer, Fairfax County opened Virginia’s 2016 primary voting Friday morning with several passionate absentee voters.

In a Virginia tradition, Site Supervisor Augastene Teal announced for all to hear in the Fairfax County Government Center that absentee in-person voting was open.

Tom and Becky Patrick, of Clifton, were in line at 8 a.m., ready to vote before heading off on an RV trip to Florida and Mardi Gras celebrations elsewhere in the South.

It made them among the first Virginia voters to cast a 2016 primary ballot, and the first in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction.

“We just take our right to vote very seriously,” Becky Patrick says.

Becky Patrick was surprised by a requirement that voters who choose to vote in the Republican primary this year must sign a statement of affiliation stating that they are truly Republicans.

“They’ve never asked for that before. I don’t know; I guess I like to be more anonymous,” she says.

Voters in Virginia do not register by party, and can choose which primary they would like to vote in when they arrive at a polling place or request an absentee ballot. Although the election is state-run, the parties are able to set certain rules for choosing their own candidates.

“It didn’t matter to me; I’m just glad to see that we have voter ID,” Tom says.

All Virginia voters are required to provide a photo ID. Voters who do not have one can get a free identification card from the local registrar.

Voters who choose to vote in the Republican primary but who do not sign the statement will cast a provisional ballot that would only be counted if a copy of the loyalty oath is submitted later. Those rules could change based on an ongoing case in federal court in Richmond filed by supporters of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

On Thursday, a judge refused to step in now to block the loyalty oath, but allowed the case to move forward. No trial date has been set, so it is not clear whether there will be any further rulings before Election Day.

Fairfax County’s third voter, Lisa, from the Alexandria area, carefully but proudly put her “I voted” sticker on her black sweater as she left the conference room being used for voting.

“It’s my civic duty, it absolutely is — and this is a very important year, and it’s just what I do; I’m prior military and this is a continuance of my service to my country,” she says.

She voted in the Democratic primary, and cast her ballot for Sen. Bernie Sanders over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Md. Gov. Martin O’Malley.

“He stands for everything that I believe in, absolutely. Our country is democracy; it’s not a corporation, and that’s what I fought for my country, that’s what I raised my hand for, and I believe that we need to get that back,” she says.

“I was passionate about President Obama; I’m actually excited about a President Sanders administration,” she adds.

Even with 13 candidates on the Republican ballot in Virginia, none of the three voters Friday morning is concerned about his or her chosen candidate dropping out of the race between now and Virginia’s Super Tuesday primary Mar. 1.

Even candidates who have dropped out of the race, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, will remain on the ballot as an option for voters.

The deadline to register to vote in the Virginia primary is Feb. 8. The last day to vote in-person absentee is Saturday, Feb. 27, the only weekend day that in-person absentee voting is open and the only day in Fairfax County when locations other than the Government Center are open for in-person absentee voting.

Virginia does require voters check one of the approved reasons to be eligible to vote absentee, but many voters qualify. The 19 acceptable reasons include business or travel outside of a voter’s county or city of residence on election day, a workday and commute that total 11 hours or more during voting hours, disability or illness, work as a first responder, and “confined, awaiting trial.”

Voters can also request a mail-in absentee ballot for any of the same reasons. Requests, whether online or through the mail, must be received by Feb. 23.

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