1st day of early voting in Virginia draws massive crowds

Virginia voters turned out big time for the state’s first day of early voting Friday.

Lines of voters stretched hundreds deep in Northern Virginia and other parts of the state. Friday marked the first day of early voting across the commonwealth. In past presidential elections, Virginia voters needed a reason to cast an early ballot. This year, however, anyone can vote early.

In Fairfax County, election workers were scrambling to open an additional voting room at the county government center where a line of hundreds of voters, spaced six feet apart, stretched down the block. Long lines were also evident in other northern Virginia locations, where Democrats outnumber Republicans.

By mid-afternoon Friday, the line at the Fairfax government center still stretched hundreds of people long, and voters reported the overall wait at nearly four hours. A few came prepared with lawn chairs, though they said the line moved too quickly to sit for any length of time.

A socially distanced long line can be seen in front of the Fairfax County Government Center as the first day of early voting is underway. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

At the Courthouse Plaza early voting site in neighboring Arlington County, nearly as many people voted in the first hour of early voting Friday as voted on the entire first day of early voting in 2016.

Four years ago, 279 Arlington voters cast ballots on the first day of early voting. This year, the county said 200 voters had cast early ballots by 9 a.m. Friday and 600 people had voted by noon.

The pandemic has apparently not stifled people’s desire to make sure their vote gets counted.

Alexandria residents wait in a socially distance line to cast their ballots for the November presidential election on first day of early voting in Virginia, at the Voter Registration Office in Alexandria, Va., Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post via AP)

“We planned for recognizing the restrictions of COVID for it to be a little larger than usual, but it’s just been enormous, and it is very exciting to see all these people out here to vote on the first day,” Fairfax Electoral Board Secretary Kate Hanley said.

In an interview with WTOP around noon Friday, Hanley said she didn’t know exactly how many voters had cast early ballots but said, “I know that the line has about 300 people in it, and people are staying.”


The first day of early voting Fairfax County, Virginia, drew a huge turnout. (Courtesy Jennifer Shanahan)

Hanley noted that voters are making sure to wear masks and social distance, which has increased the length of the lines.

“But it’s just an amazing turnout,” Hanley said. “People want to be sure that they can see their vote ballot cast on the machine. … And we’re hoping that we can help them do it as fast as we can, as fast as we can go, which is not hugely fast, but we want people to be safe,” she said.

Hanley added, “It is really incredibly exciting here to see the number of people that have turned out.”

WTOP reporter Mike Murillo said he spoke to several people who said that they don’t need to wait and vote, their mind is made up and they want to cast their ballot.

Pencils were handed out in Fairfax County during early voting. (Courtesy Jennifer Shanahan)

Marcus Simon, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, said the wait to vote at the Fairfax County Government Center on Friday afternoon was 4.5 hours.

A socially distanced long line extends in front of the Fairfax County Government Center as the first day of early voting is underway. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

Jennifer Shanahan said that the crowd was positive and ready to cast their ballots in Fairfax County on Friday.

“It’s so inspiring! Everyone is so patient, friendly, and sharing stories of past elections. They’re stunned at how many are here! Everyone is anxious to make sure their vote counts!! It feels hopeful here,” Shanahan said.

In Alexandria on Friday afternoon, dozens of people had queued up outside the office on Royal Street for early voting.

Voters in line were all ages and Alexandria has had 639 vote as of 2 p.m., according to WTOP’s Colleen Kelleher.

Voters line up to cast their ballots during early voting in Alexandria, Virginia. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Poll workers described the turnout as “steady” and said there was a line when the polls opened at 6:15 a.m.

Early voters in Alexandria were handed stickers once they got through the line. (WTOP/Colleen Kelleher)

Equally long lines, though, were reported in Virginia Beach — where voters stood in the rain — and other parts of the state as well.

Voters line up at the Municipal Center, Building 14 in Virginia Beach, Va., for early voting, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (L. Todd Spencer/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)

The Fairfax County Government Center will be open until Election Day.

Hanley said 14 additional early voting sites in Fairfax County will open Oct. 14.

In Arlington County, four more early voting sites will open Oct. 17.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s Kristi King, Valerie Bonk, Mike Murillo, Colleen Kelleher and Jose Umana contributed to this report.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up