Nearly 47,000 people in Charlottesville and Albemarle County already have cast their ballot for next week’s election.
With only a week until Election Day, about 40% of each locality’s voters have officially made their decisions.
Vote totals and preparations for the Nov. 3 contests were the topics for meetings of the city and county electoral boards on Monday. The city board met in person, while the county held a virtual meeting.
The coronavirus pandemic has vastly changed the election landscape, with focus shifting to early voting and mail-in ballots.
The city and county electoral boards discussed some logistics for Nov. 3 during their meetings Monday, with the two bodies touching on similar topics.
Area voters are choosing between several candidates for federal officers.
At the top of the ticket, Republican President Donald Trump is facing Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden and Libertarian Jo Jorgenson.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner is seeking a third six-year term against Republican Daniel Gade.
In Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, which includes much of the Charlottesville area, Democrat Cameron Webb is squaring off against Republican Bob Good. Good defeated Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, in a convention this summer.
In the 7th Congressional District, which includes Louisa and Orange counties, Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger is being challenged by Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, as she seeks a second two-year term.
There also will be two statewide referendums on the ballot. One relates to Virginia’s redistricting process, while the other concerns taxation of vehicles used by people related to members of the armed services.
While officials had somewhat of a trial run for a pandemic-affected election with the June primaries, far more voters are participating in the November election.
The only races on the ballot in Charlottesville and Albemarle County for June’s election were the Republican primary for U.S. Senate and Democratic primary for the 5th Congressional District.
In Charlottesville, 7,770 and 300 votes were tallied in the Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. In Albemarle County, 15,901 ballots were counted in the Democratic race and 2,462 in the Republican primary.
As of Saturday, 13,923 city voters had cast a ballot for November’s election, translating to about 40% of Charlottesville’s 34,955 registered voters.
As of Monday morning, Albemarle County had received 32,924 early votes, according to Registrar Jake Washburne. Of those, 19,060 were in-person and 13,864 were mail-in ballots. The number is about 40% of the county’s roughly 81,674 voters.
According to the Virginia Department of Elections, 22,619 city voters, or 63%, cast a ballot in 2016. In the county, 57,154 ballots were cast, or 74% of registered voters.
Of the local ballots cast in 2016, only 7,042 in the county and 3,256 in the city were absentee.
City Electoral Board member Jim Nix said officials are expecting to receive a total of about 17,000 early votes this year.
As of Saturday, the city had received 16,372 applications for mail-in ballots and sent out 16,365. Only about 2,100 people who applied have not cast a ballot. The county has sent out 19,807 ballots and about 5,923 are still outstanding, although Washburne doesn’t expect them all to be returned.
The deadline to request a mailed ballot already has passed. If ballots are returned by mail, they must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3 and received by the registrar’s office no later than noon Nov. 6.
Nix predicted 10,000 to 11,000 people will vote in-person on Nov. 3. He didn’t expect many ballots to come in after that day.
City Registrar Melissa Morton said she is reaching out to those who have not returned their ballots.
In the city, the method for precinct chiefs to call in results will remain the same as typical elections. Morton said the office has enough staff this year to ensure chiefs won’t have to call in multiple times to get through.
The results will be tallied by hand and posted on the wall in the registrar’s office, as they are in each election.
Board member Jon Bright, Deputy Registrar Taylor Yowell and representatives from the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and fire and police departments have been meeting with precinct chiefs to discuss rapid response to any security concerns on Election Day.
“I think we have a pretty comprehensive security plan in place and everybody should be safe,” Bright said. “We’ve looked at everything we need to and then an extra step.”
Police will not be stationed at polling sites, although some precincts will have officials directing traffic.
A new law allows Virginians to drop their mail-in ballot in a drop box instead of having to return it via mail. Albemarle’s drop box is in front of the main entrance to the 5th Street County Office Building, while Charlottesville’s is outside of the registrar’s office in the City Hall Annex.
Boxes also will be available at precincts from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Board member Anne Hemenway said three election officers will be assigned to the outside of polling places to monitor the ballot drop boxes. At least two officers will be outside of the precinct at all times and can report any issues to the precinct chief.
When the precinct chief announces polls are closing, the officers will walk through the line to confirm no voters are waiting to cast their ballot in the drop box. They also will check with voters waiting in curbside voting spaces.
After the final check, the box will be brought inside and sealed. The officers and precinct chief will bring the box to the car of the election official designated to pick it up. That person will then transport it to the registrar’s office.
Officials are trying to anticipate any complications that may arise, but acknowledged not everything can be planned.
“I think this is one we’re going to have to live through first,” said Albemarle Electoral Board member Peter Wurzer.
Saturday is the last day to vote early in person. A valid photo ID is no longer required to vote, as legislators changed the requirement for the election.
Voters can bring an acceptable form of ID, such as a student ID, utility bill or other government documentation. If a voter doesn’t bring identification, they must complete an affirmation of eligibility to cast a ballot.