Northern Virginia voters pack recently opened early voting sites

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)

Virginia voters have been packing polling sites since early voting began on Sept. 18.

The numbers for most jurisdictions are breaking records set in 2016, but it is hard to compare them because this is the first year a voter could vote early in person or by mail without an excuse.

“It’s much higher than we have seen in past years,” said Gary Scott, Fairfax County’s director of elections, comparing absentee voting, by mail and in-person, with early, in-person voting..

Socially distanced lines have stretched far into the Fairfax County Government Center’s courtyard as already-decided voters show up in droves.

As of Friday, Fairfax County has seen close to 16,000 people show up to cast a ballot or send one in, accounting for just under 3% of those registered to vote in the county.

“We didn’t expect a very heavy turnout for in-person early voting, and we’re adjusting to it,” Scott said.

A similar story is playing out in neighboring Loudoun County, where close to 1,000 people show up every early voting day to cast their ballots.

“We are seeing massive turnout,” said Richard Keech, deputy director of elections in Loudoun County.

Almost 3% of registered voters have cast a ballot over the past week and a half. Keech also said each Friday sets a new record.

“Typically, the busiest day of in-person absentee voting was the Saturday before the election, and we’ve basically met or beaten that every day this week,” Keech said of last week’s turnout.

Loudoun County Director of Elections Judith Brown said in an email that the county saw its highest daily number of early voters this past Friday, with 1,663 people casting ballots. On Sept. 18, the county saw 1,659 early voters.

When it comes to the percentage of ballots cast, as of Friday, the City of Falls Church leads the pack with more than 17% of its more than 10,000 registered voters showing up to vote early.

The City of Fairfax is next with more than 12% turnout so far in a city of just over 17,000 registered voters.

More than 5,400 voters have voted in Alexandria, which is more than 5% of its more than 101,000 registered voters.

WTOP reached out to Arlington and Prince William counties about voter turnout but has yet to receive a response.

COVID-19 restrictions are in place at all polling sites, which means poll workers must frequently clean equipment and keep visitors spaced out, creating longer lines in the process.

“The system is slower than we would normally see,” Scott said of Fairfax County’s early elections.
In Loudoun County, Keech said he’s pleased so many volunteers have stepped up to help at the polls.

“There is a lot involved related to the COVID thing, but we have a lot of help, and we’re very thankful for that,” Keech said.

Loudoun County has mailed out approximately 40% more ballots than it did in 2016, according to Keech. Alexandria elections officials said almost 33,000 mail-in ballots were sent out.

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