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Impressive early voter participation

By Sam Fowler and Titus Mohler

Capital News Service and The Charlotte Gazette

In-person early voting turnout has been impressive in Virginia and steady from the start in Charlotte County. The early voting period has not been issue-free, though.

The state computer system was down Tuesday, Oct. 13, putting in-person early voting on hold temporarily. State officials were working busily to fix the issue.

“I was just listening to the governor’s address, and they’re still working on it,” Charlotte County Interim Voter Registrar Eric Goode said Tuesday afternoon.

He noted that as far as he knows, this is the first time an issue of this kind has occurred during the early voting period, which began Sept. 18 and runs through Oct. 31.

County residents have not let early voting go to waste, creating a substantive flow of traffic to the polls.

“I would describe it as steady,” Goode said, estimating an average of about 50 people per day have been voting.

He said there are approximately 8,360 registered voters in the county. About 8.6% percent of them have taken advantage of the in-person early voting opportunity.

“In person we’re currently at 719,” he said of the early voter tally Tuesday afternoon, moments before offering a comparative estimate of the number of absentee ballot applications that have been requested. “We’ve mailed out I’d say about nearly the same amount.”

There is a sales tax referendum on the ballot, but Goode said he could not really say if it has played any kind of role in drawing turnout because he has not heard much about it.

“I won’t say that it’s not a cause of people turning out, but I won’t say that it is either,” he said.

This year more than 1 million absentee ballots have been requested, Andrea Gaines, director of community relations at the Virginia Department of Elections, said in an email. Around 370,000 absentee ballots have been returned as of Thursday, Oct. 8.

Early, in-person voting has also yielded a large turnout. More than 420,000 people have voted in-person as of Oct. 8.

“It is the largest turnout we have seen at this time of year in Virginia,” Gaines said.

This is the first year there has been no-excuse absentee voting and a 45-day early voting period. The General Assembly recently passed a host of voting reform bills to allow for these changes.

A record number of more than 5.8 million Virginians had registered to vote as of Aug. 31, when looking at records that go back to 1976. More than 5.5 million voters were registered in the 2016 presidential election year, and turnout that year hit 72%.

Nationwide initiatives such as National Voter Registration Day, which occurred Sept. 22, broke new ground. An estimated 1.5 million people registered to vote nationally during the event this year, the largest number of registrations since the campaign started in 2012, according to the organization’s website. Celebrities got involved to help the cause trend on Twitter with #NationalVoterRegistrationDay.

Important upcoming deadlines include Oct. 23 to request an absentee ballot by mail and Oct. 31 to request an absentee ballot in person. All absentee ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by noon on the third day after the election.