Voters in Northern Virginia are casting early absentee ballots at far higher rates than they did in the 2012 presidential election, a reflection of the surge of interest in the 2016 contest that could benefit Democrat Hillary Clinton over Republican Donald Trump.
In Fairfax County, the state’s largest jurisdiction, officials anticipate that 150,000 people will have cast absentee ballots by Nov. 8, a nearly 75 percent increase over the 87,000 ballots cast four years ago.
In nearby Arlington County, officials are expecting about 43,000 absentee votes, or about 50 percent more than in 2012. Alexandria absentee ballots are also up by nearly 50 percent, to 2,840 so far.
“We’re definitely well above 2012,” said Linda Lindberg, Arlington’s general registrar. “Maybe people just want to vote and get it out of the way.”
Virginia localities have been accepting in-person absentee ballots since late September, limiting the option to voters who can prove that they won’t be around on Election Day because of travel plans, school, military duty or other reasons. The absentee ballots will be accepted until Nov. 8, election officials say.
Since the process started, absentee ballots have been up by about 22 percent statewide compared with 2012, according to a recent report by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project.
In largely Democratic Northern Virginia, the increase has been about 56 percent, the report shows.
The increase in early voting indicates more energy by Clinton voters in the state’s more densely populated communities, said Quentin Kidd, director of the Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.
Clinton leads Trump in Virginia by about 15 percentage points, according to a Wason Center poll released Sunday.
“The educated voter, the educated female voter; I’m basically describing Fairfax County, definitely Arlington, and parts of Loudoun and Prince William” counties, Kidd said. “That’s where the enthusiasm is for Clinton.”
But in Richmond and other areas of Virginia where African American voters are concentrated, the enthusiasm appears to be lukewarm, Kidd said.
Early absentee voting in Richmond has increased by just 14 percent, to a total of about 830 ballots turned in as of last week, according to the VPAP report. In Newport News, absentee ballots have been down by about 38 percent, to a total of 430.
“What that means is that the African American turnout is low so far compared to some of these other places like Fairfax,” Kidd said. “In those areas, the turnout doesn’t look as energized or excited.”
In rural portions of the state, where Trump has stronger support, the turnout for absentee voters has been minimal, Kidd noted.
Cameron Sasnett, Fairfax’s general registrar, said his county’s higher turnout may be a result of expanded operations this year for absentee voting. As of last week, the county had collected 14,220 absentee ballots, compared with 5,801 at the same time in 2012.
Voters who want to turn in a ballot can do so at 10 locations in the county, including the Fairfax government center.
On a recent afternoon, about two dozen voters made their way to the county government center to vote.
Several said they were motivated to come out early by the mostly negative tone of the presidential campaign.
David Britt, 57, said he has several 2016 election bumper stickers on his car, one of which begs for a meteor to crash into Earth and “End it, already.”
“I’m so very sick of both sides,” said Britt, who won’t be available on Election Day because he’ll be volunteering as an election worker. A Republican, he voted for Trump.
Jim Percival, 70, stood in line while using an oxygen tank to help him breathe.
He is on a waiting list for a lung transplant, and he isn’t sure he’ll be available on Nov. 8.
“What has been done to our democracy is an absolute travesty,” said Percival, who voted for Clinton.
Jokingly, he added: “My vote counts, even if I’m dead.”