Primary Day 2021 in Virginia: Absentee turnout remains strong

As Virginians turned out Tuesday to pick Democratic nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, among other races, it appeared that voting absentee remains an attractive option amid the pandemic.

According to Virginia’s Department of Elections, almost 121,000 Virginians turned in an absentee ballot for Tuesday’s primary. Contrast that to the 2017 Democratic primary, when just over 26,000 had voted absentee.

As of 4 p.m. — three hours before the polls closed — the Fairfax County Office of Elections estimated in-person turnout at under 4.7%. Scott Konopasek, the county’s director of elections and general registrar, estimated total turnout at around 10%, “plus or minus a few.” Prior to Tuesday, a county official said, about 11,000 had voted early in-person, and about 9,000 had mailed in their ballots.

In Alexandria, 11,600 voters had cast ballots (a turnout of 11.75%) as of 4 p.m. In Prince William County, there was about 3.75% turnout as of 4:30 p.m. And Arlington County was estimating 9% turnout as of 5 p.m.

The Virginia Department of Elections said it will not have “turnout numbers until after the election results have been certified. The election will be officially certified on June 22, 2021,” said Andrea Gaines, spokeswoman for the department.

Voters who turned out Tuesday morning in Arlington cited a wide range of factors driving their choices. For Sumi Yi, it was growth: “Growth is great,” she said, “but it has to have a good impact on everyone.”

For Paul Hamilton, it was background and professional competency: “I think the last four years have demonstrated this,” he said.

For Nanda Setnur, it was an economy and justice system that “work for everyone.”

And for one Alexandria voter who wished to remain anonymous, the main factor influencing his vote was electability: “I want to appeal to … more establishment Republicans who are willing to cross the line to move away from the crazy that we’re seeing in the GOP these days.”

Reporting from Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax counties shortly after polls opened at 6 a.m., WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported it wasn’t taking long for voters to cast their ballots.

“It was pretty thin,” said one voter wearing a mask at a Loudoun County elementary school. “Not a lot of people. No lines.”

Only five people had voted 90 minutes after the polls opened at Chantilly High School, which one voter there took as a sign most had opted to send in their ballots early. “I felt safe enough to come in person and vote,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful that we finally have so many different options to vote, and I hope they continue doing that.”

The Democratic candidates for governor are Del. Lee J. Carter, Lieutenant Gov. Justin Fairfax, former Del. Jennifer D. Carroll Foy, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Jennifer McClellan.

For lieutenant governor, the Democratic candidates are Del. Hala S. Ayala, Del. Sam Rasoul, Norfolk Council Member Andria P. McClellan, Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (who has dropped out of this race but remains on the ballot), Fairfax County NAACP President Sean A. Perryman, Del. Mark H. Levine and NFL agent and lobbying-firm partner Xavier JaMar Warren.

For attorney general, Del. Jerrauld C. ‘Jay’ Jones is taking on incumbent Mark R. Herring.

(Find more information on the candidates in WTOP’s voter guide.)

Virginia Republicans selected most of their candidates in a convention last month, choosing Glenn Youngkin for governor, Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Jason Miyares for attorney general. There is also a Republican primary for the Board of Supervisors in the Aquia District of Stafford County.

In addition to the statewide and House races, there are Democratic contests for a County Board slot in Arlington and for mayor and City Council in Alexandria.

More Virginia Primary News

Last November, the vote count was complicated by the massive number of early and absentee voters, whose votes, under the rules at the time, were all counted at the end of the night. This year, Fairfax County’s registrar told WTOP they’ll be counting the early votes first. It’s not known whether that will be the case statewide.

The general election will be held Nov. 2.

WTOP’s Rick Massimo, Nick Iannelli and Kristi King contributed to this report.

Jack Pointer

Jack contributes to when he's not working as the afternoon/evening radio writer. In a previous life, he helped edit The Dallas Morning News and Chicago Tribune.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital reporter and editor in June 2018. He is a writer and photojournalist focusing on politics, political activism and national affairs, with recent multimedia contributions to Reuters, MSNBC and PBS.

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