Polls in Virginia closed at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, and with a new change in state law, election officials should be able to tally votes faster than in previous years.
In addition to choosing the commonwealth’s next governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, voters will also weigh in on the entire House of Delegates. Currently, Democrats have a 10-seat advantage over Republicans, 55-45.
Voters are on edge and the country is watching, as the Virginia gubernatorial election between former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, and businessman Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, are said to be in a tight race.
A Loudoun County voter said, “No matter what happens, there’s going to be a camp of people that’s going to be very upset.”
As soon as the polls close at 7 p.m., local election offices may begin tallying absentee ballots and in-person voting figures because of the new election law.
As of 4 p.m., local election officials began to give updates on turnout. Fairfax County reporting a 49% turnout, Loudoun County reporting 45% turnout and the City of Alexandria reporting 51% turnout.
At an 11 a.m. news conference on Tuesday, State Election Commissioner Christopher Piper said 20% of the electorate had already voted. And by Monday at 3:30 p.m., 72% of the absentee ballots had been returned.
“We have more than 5.9 million voters registered for this election,” Piper said at the press conference when he gave an update on Virginia’s gubernatorial election that has garnered national attention. “As of this morning, 1,167,659 Virginians have already cast their ballots.”
Piper said 862,927 voters cast early ballots in person, and 306,662 voted by absentee ballot.
What voters are saying
Fairfax County voter Parker Singh said voting Tuesday was the only thing on his mind.
“I want to continue to have some progress on the way in which our state has been working across economic issues, education issues. Those two are front and center at what I’m looking for, and the progress we’ve made with COVID,” Singh said.
Lexi Smith, a mother, said policies relating to COVID-19 led her to the polls.
Voter Kathy Dowd, a retired teacher, said she had to vote today in order to stop “this country’s democracy from being overtaken by crazy people.”
Education was at the forefront for Dowd. She said while the issue is always a political football, this year people are obsessing about it.
“People are obsessing about this whole critical race theory. I wish they would do their due diligence and see what that really means,” she said.
“What it means is let’s really talk about American history. If we’re a melting pot, let’s talk about why. And if we are truly interested in what built this county, let’s not leave out most of the people who built it.”
In Alexandria, voters who already made it to the polls said they had strong reasons for showing up to vote.
“It’s a very important election. I saw this one as pivotal, so I’m here,” Alexandria resident Alberta said.
Chris McMurray said he was voting to protect democracy. “It’s at risk right now. It’s really important to vote.”
One voter, David Osinksi, said it was his civic duty to vote.
“I’m looking for a balance, especially in some of the races where I could pick multiple people. I didn’t want to go on only one issue across the board. I’d prefer a balance in the leadership of both the school board and the city council,” he said.
This year, he’s also experienced more door-knocking than usual, he said.
“I feel like the campaigning is more grassroots than it has been in the past,” he said. “It’s helpful.”
Earl Durand said he feels more informed during this election.
“This year we’ve seen better preparation for voting than I’ve seen in previous years. We’ve received good literature, good insight and we feel we’re far better prepared to vote our intentions, perhaps than in previous years,” Durand said alongside his wife, Linda.
No major polling problems
The elections commissioner reported no major in-person voting issues on Tuesday, so far.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Piper, the state election commissioner, said before listing a few incidents at polling precincts that appeared to be low-level issues.
In Loudoun County, the government phones were offline, but they were up and running by 11 a.m., when Piper spoke. A precinct in Henrico County opened 10 minutes late due to a medical situation, and there was a reported power outage at Spring Run Elementary School in Chesterfield County.
But Piper said not to worry: Voting machines and electronic poll books have battery backups, so voters can continue to cast ballots. And provisional ballots are also always available to any voter.
A tight race
On Monday night, both gubernatorial candidates, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and businessman Glenn Youngkin, ended their campaigns in Northern Virginia. The race has been considered neck and neck for weeks now.
Over the course of his campaign, McAuliffe brought in heavyweights to bring out the Democratic base, including President Joe Biden and former president Barack Obama, while former president Donald Trump hosted a brief tele-rally Monday to bring out Republicans. However, Youngkin has been careful not to associate himself too closely with Trump during the campaign.
You can find the House of Delegates races, local races and ballot questions for your city or county in WTOP’s Virginia voter guide.
When do we find out who won?
It shouldn’t take as long as it did last year.
The law in Virginia used to say that all absentee, early and mail-in ballots in a city or county were handled last, and all together. With the surge in absentee voting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, that meant last year, a boatload of ballots were waiting until the end of the night to be processed and counted.
The General Assembly changed the law this year, so that local registrars start processing (not counting) these ballots at least seven days before Election Day and counting before the polls close.
Different jurisdictions might do things differently, but Arlington, for example, said Monday that they’ll be breaking up their results so that early in-person ballot counts will be released first, right after the polls close, they hope. Then they’ll release the results from the mail ballots that arrived through Sunday, then the in-person Election Day ballots. They’re hoping to have it wrapped up around 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Again, though: Mail ballots can come in, and people can shore up their provisional ballots, up to Friday at 5 p.m. So it may not be a long night, but if a race is really close, it could be a long week.
WTOP’s John Domen contributed reporting from Alexandria and Kristi King contributed from Fairfax County.
Glynis Kazanjian has been a freelance writer covering Maryland politics and government on the local, state and federal levels for the last 11 years. Her work is published in Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Post Examiner, Bethesda Beat and Md. Reporter. She has also worked as a true crime researcher.
Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.
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.