This post has been updated.
On a cold but bright morning, few voters trickled into Arlington County polling places to choose from among three candidates to fill a vacant seat on the County Board for the next eight months.
Democrat Libby Garvey, Republican Mark Kelly and Green Party member Audrey Clement are competing to fill the seat left open when Barbara Favola (D) won election to the Virginia Senate in November. The winner of the special election could take the oath of office Wednesday, if she or he chooses.
Linda Lindberg, Arlington’s registrar of elections, had predicted a turnout of 18 percent to 20 percent. But at mid-morning, she said the turnout was “a little lighter than we expected. It’s 2 to 3 percent this morning, which is really light for Arlington.”
Every precinct had at least a handful of voters, she said, but she cut her turnout estimated in half. “It will be closer to 10 to 12 percent, I hope,” she said.
Despite a small turnout early in the day, voters appeared to have made up their minds some time ago.
“I came to vote for Libby. I’ve known her for a long time,” said Casey Triggs, dressed for work and headed for his car after voting at the Madison Community Center. “Will she win? More people want her; it depends on the turnout.”
The turnout was on the minds of Democrats, including those who were unaware of the special election until Monday night.
“Robocalling works!” declared Jackie Williams, who said she voted for “Libby Whatever-Her-Name-Is.”
At Glebe Elementary School, Robert Love said he voted out of “the usual frustration with the County Board. They spend, spend, spend.” He was a supporter of Republican candidate Kelly “just to get a little flavor in there.”
While campaign workers scanned the streets for potential supporters and clutched hot cups of coffee, voters came and went.
“I vote Democratic even though it’s a nonpartisan race,” said Valerie Crotty at Wilson School in Rosslyn. A former chair of the Florida Elections Commission, she said she liked Garvey’s experience but also noted that Clement, the Green candidate, “has a good campaign going.”
Whoever wins will likely opt for a speedy swearing-in, because the county is in the middle of its annual budget work and all three candidates have some firm opinions on how the Arlington should spend taxpayers’ money, which they have aired on the Web sites, on brochures and in neighborhood election forums for the past eight weeks.
Between 18 percent and 20 percent of Arlington’s 122,800 active voters are expected to fill out ballots, said Linda Lindberg, Arlington’s general registrar. She noted there have been a few more absentee votes than normal, more than 800 so far, but absentee voting has been increasing in recent years.
All three candidates are familiar faces on the campaign trail. Garvey has been on the Arlington School Board for 15 years and lost a Democratic primary race in the summer for the Virginia Senate. Clement unsuccessfully ran against Democratic board members Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada in November. Kelly in 2010 challenged board member Chris Zimmerman, but he lost, too.
Kelly, however, collected 20,750 votes in that 2010 race (Zimmerman won with 32,894). Last fall, the far more liberal Clement won 9,728 votes out of 58,841 cast in the three-way race.
“Ninety-three hundred Republicans always seem to turn out,” Garvey said earlier this month, “but the Democratic turnout varies.”
Garvey has raised the most money of all the candidates, but she had to win a Democratic caucus to get the nomination. Since Jan. 1, she and Kelly have raised about the same amount, between $45,000 and $46,000.
The position pays about $49,000 a year and requires working many nights and weekends. The winner will have to defend the seat Nov. 6; the Democratic primary is set for June 12, in anticipation of that general election. The deadline to apply for a spot on the primary ballot is Thursday.