Northam calls for continued diligence on virus, patience over election results

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday said that while no new COVID-19 safety regulations are coming just yet, the rise in cases in areas of the commonwealth, especially the southwest, are “concerning,” and that he was monitoring the situation “very closely.”

He also said at the media briefing that more than 2 million people had already voted in Virginia, and that people need to be patient regarding election results, which will take days to become official — and always have.

‘We aren’t an island’

Northam started by presenting a graphic from The New York Times showing that “Virginia is one of just a handful of states that is not seeing a large increase” in coronavirus cases.

That’s counting cases statewide, though: He added that “While our numbers look pretty good overall, we have to consider differences in regions across the state.”

In Northern Virginia and the southwestern part of the state, cases have been steadily increasing; in the latter, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive is just under 8% and has been rising for 15 straight days.

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The governor noted that other states and other countries are imposing lockdowns and other restrictions once again.

“Nobody wants to do this,” Northam said. “We’re keeping an eye on this [situation].”

He added, “Most people are doing the right thing, and they are tired of seeing other folks disregard the rules, and disregard the health and safety of other people.”

Much of the increase is driven by small family gatherings, Northam said. Dr. Daniel Carey, the secretary of health and human resources, defined that term as anything that involves people who don’t live together, no matter the number of people. Masks and social distancing are still needed to keep people safe in such gatherings.

Northam also said more money from the federal CARES Act would soon be distributed. Among the changes: The maximum grant amount will grow from $10,000 to $100,000.

Casting and counting votes

Northam said that nearly 1.4 million Virginians have voted early in person, and about 817,000 by mail — nearly four times the early vote from 2016, almost 55% the total 2016 turnout.

Almost 36% of registered voters have already voted, he added.

The governor reminded voters that the last day to vote early in person is Saturday, Oct. 31.

If you’re voting absentee by mail, it must have been mailed by Tuesday and received by noon Friday. If you haven’t mailed it yet, he said, you probably should drop it off at a drop box or your local Board of Elections.

On Election Day, which is Nov. 3, polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Northam cautioned against the expectation of a winner being declared immediately.

“Television and computers have created the expectation that we’ll know the winner of the election on election night,” Northam said, “but that’s not required, and that’s not even the final count.”

Officials don’t call an election the first night that ballots are counted; “news organizations and cable news started doing that,” he said. An official count can, and always has, taken days: Local boards will certify their results Nov. 10; the state board, Nov. 16.

Secretary of Administration Dr. Keyanna Conner explained how counting will work: Results from ballots cast in person on Election Day will populate in each locality as they come in starting at 7 p.m. on a precinct-by-precinct basis, just like always.

Mail-in and absentee ballots in Virginia can be processed and prepared for counting in advance, and each locality will report all such ballots that they’ve gotten to in one shot — called the Central Absentee Precinct — by 11 p.m., she said. Counting of whatever Election Day ballots remain will continue, she added.

Counting of mail-in and absentee ballots will start again Wednesday, Nov. 4, and results will be updated after Friday, Nov. 6, at noon. “Virginians should expect that the results could change in the days after the elections. Results on election night have always been unofficial.”

“We’re looking at more like an election week than an election night — and that’s nothing to be alarmed about,” Northam added.

Racial justice

Northam also pointed to a new law that banned no-knock warrants in Virginia — making it the third state to ban them — and the state’s victory in court on Tuesday regarding the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond.

Northam called the judge’s order “an important step into the 21st century” for the commonwealth. Attorney General Mark Herring said the statue was “a memorial to Virginia’s racist past in the middle of our capital city, and it has been up for far too long. … The statue was erected … to show who was in control and what the social order was going to be.”

The judge delayed the removal of the Lee statue until the order could be appealed.

Northam also expressed dismay over the recent revelations of racism at the Virginia Military Institute.

Though he said, “I wouldn’t be here” in the governor’s mansion without the education he got at VMI, he added that an investigation was pending. “We want to make sure the culture at VMI reflects the values we all hold in this 21st century,” Northam said.

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