Following a nominating convention like none other, the counting is expected to take days. But some candidates at Saturday's convention sounded ready to move right to November's general election.
"We're going to beat Terry!" Glenn Youngkin, one of seven Republican gubernatorial contenders, called out to voters rolling through a drive-through polling place at Northern Virginia Community College in Annandale.
He was referring to former governor Terry McAuliffe, the best known and best funded of the five contenders for the Democratic nomination in that party's June 8 primary. All are seeking to succeed Gov. Ralph Northam (D), whom the state constitution prohibits from serving back-to-back terms.
Facing pandemic-era crowd limits and a bitter internal feud over to how to pick its candidates for November's elections, the GOP held an "unassembled" convention. Instead of gathering under one roof for candidate speeches and multiple rounds of voting, Republicans cast single, ranked-choice ballots at 39 locations around the state.
Voters appeared to turn out in large numbers — by convention standards — although the party did not have a total available by Saturday evening. Shortly after polls closed at 4 p.m., poll workers around the state packed the ballots into sealed boxes and began transporting them to the ballroom of the Marriott in downtown Richmond, where they were to be held overnight under armed guard.
On the ballot for the party’s gubernatorial nod: state Sen. Amanda F. Chase (Chesterfield); Del. Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights), a former House speaker; retired Army Col. Sergio de la Peña; former think tank executive Peter Doran; businessman Pete Snyder; former Roanoke sheriff Octavia Johnson; and Youngkin, a former Carlyle Group executive.
A crew of about 60 will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday to tally the ballots by hand, a method three gubernatorial contenders demanded amid fears that vote-counting software the party was considering could be rigged against them.
Determining a winner will be no simple matter. Convention rules require the nominee to secure a majority, not a mere plurality. Ballots will be tallied over and over, with the lowest vote-getter dropping off after each round. When a voter's first choice is eliminated, their second choice gets counted.
Counters will start with the four-way race for the attorney general nomination. The gubernatorial ballots will be tallied last.
Candidates spent the day working the polls. Youngkin and de la Peña were at the community college, the largest convention polling site in the state, moving from vehicle to vehicle to greet supporters and try to persuade those who favored someone else to at least rank them second on the ballot.
"Hi, George! How are you?" Youngkin, coffee cup in hand, said to one delegate who had just introduced himself from his idling sedan. "Thanks for coming out early."
Leigh Ann Jackson, a teacher in Fairfax County, said she worries the GOP has become too closely linked to former president Donald Trump and is hurting its chances for advancing issues important to her in Richmond.
"I just see him as a voice of reason," Jackson said of Youngkin as she waited to rank him first. "I feel like he'll navigate in a positive way for the conservative people."
Sitting two cars back in line, Carie Stephens said she wants the GOP to do everything it can to end abortions. For her, de la Peña is the best person to do that, followed by Snyder.
"The people who are in office now don't represent our values," said Stephens, 49.
At Meadow Event Park in Doswell, delegates sat in a long, unmoving line an hour and a half after polls opened. About 2,300 delegates from eight surrounding counties were signed up to vote there.
"Folks are ready to take back the House and win the governor's office," said Del. Scott A. Wyatt (R-Hanover), who was chatting with drivers as they waited. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates will also be on the ballot in the fall.
Major Mansfield, 86, of Mechanicsville in Hanover County, made his preferences clear with enormous signs for Chase affixed to both sides of his pickup truck.
"It's time Virginia got their first female governor," he said.
Mansfield said he was confident that Chase could win because she has "boots on the ground" — a legion of grass-roots supporters. "These other guys, some of them are multimillionaires. All they're doing is trying to buy the election."
Chase cast her ballot from the parking lot at the Thomas R. Fulghum Conference Center in Chesterfield County. But she first pulled out of line to phone state GOP Chairman Rich Anderson to ask why the instruction sheet handed out with ballots told voters not to make one candidate their first, second and third choice.
Chase had told her fans to do just that for her.
"We're getting conflicting instructions, and people are concerned," she told Anderson. With her speakerphone on, the chairman could be heard assuring her that those ballots would not be considered spoiled and tossed.
"A lot of my supporters, they just don't trust anything about this process," said Chase, who had pushed for a primary instead and unsuccessfully sued the state party to try to thwart the convention.
Chase was upbeat about her chances and declined to say whether she plans to go through with threats to run as an independent if Snyder wins the nomination. She has accused Snyder, who pushed for the convention, of trying to rig the nomination method in his favor — something he has disputed.
Later in the day, she said she might request an audit of the count "if the election [result] doesn't make sense."
Snyder voted at Madison High School, accompanied by his wife and young daughter.
"Tremendous turnout out here. Fingers crossed. We're pretty excited," he said on a video he tweeted.
In nearby Colonial Heights, Brandon Howard was upset that a poll official said he couldn't vote inside Life Christian Academy unless he put the pistol he was carrying in a holster on his thigh back into his truck.
Howard, a gun rights activist from Hopewell, accused the official of stifling his constitutional rights and promptly called an attorney with the state GOP.
"We just don't want guns in precincts. It makes everyone uncomfortable," chief teller Rita Schiff told the lawyer when Howard put her on the phone.
Howard eventually agreed to vote outside but then called Chase, his preferred candidate for governor, to report the situation, which he called a "black eye" for the party. Chase showed up moments later, and she and Howard called Anderson, the party chairman, leaving a voice mail complaint.
This, Howard said, was an example of why he thought Chase should be the next governor.
"She's an attack dog," he said.
As Chase was huddling with Howard, another candidate walked out of the polling place: Cox, who had just cast his ballot. He had started the day in Hampton Roads and said he saw good turnout and few problems at several voting places there.
"As far as I could tell, it's gone fairly well," he said.
Ken Johnston, 72, a retired pastor, cast his first ever convention ballot for Snyder in Chesterfield.
"I'm very concerned about the future of Virginia and the leftward trend of our politics in general," he said. "I feel like we're losing the country and we're going to end up like Venezuela."
A record 53,914 voters jumped through the hoops required to become convention delegates, filling out an application weeks in advance and renouncing — verbally or in writing — any recent votes in Democratic primaries.
The number who turned out Saturday was expected to be far higher than the last time the party held a gubernatorial convention, in 2013, when about 8,000 of 13,500 approved delegates cast ballots.
But even if every registered delegate turned out this time, that would represent just a sliver of the nearly 366,000 voters who voted in the GOP's most recent gubernatorial primary, in 2017.
About 1,400 people voted at the Deep Run Recreation center in western Henrico County, of roughly 2,400 registered there. Former governor Jim Gilmore, who served from 1998 to 2002, voted there along with his wife, Roxane. She chose Cox, but Gilmore declined to name his choice, saying he hoped to be a unifying force once the nominees are chosen.
"I'm happy with the slate," said Gilmore, who served as an ambassador under Trump and said he is headed on a fact-finding mission to Ukraine later this week. "I think we're going to nominate somebody who will talk about the right issues," he said, naming schools, taxes and public safety.
"Above all," Roxane Gilmore said, "Republicans have to be united behind whatever comes out of this today."
One of the last to cast a ballot before the doors closed was Theresa Baksys, 65, of Henrico. She chose Snyder for governor, she said, because she felt he would take a stand against the street protests that gripped Richmond last summer.
"He was saying the violence that went on in the city . . . 'Not on my watch.' That's exactly what we needed," she said. Baksys condemned Northam for failing to protect Confederate monuments, which she said should have been preserved as pieces of history. "The whole Democratic Party to me was bad news from top to bottom."
All of the Republican contenders have aligned themselves with Trump or his policies, although to varying degrees. Cox has treaded cautiously, while the others have more openly embraced him.
Democrats played up the candidates' ties to the president as Republicans went to the polls.
"Every Republican candidate for governor has two things in common: They are completely committed to Donald Trump, and they are too extreme for Virginia," said Democratic Party of Virginia spokesman Manuel Bonder.
The GOP's gubernatorial nominee will lead the party's efforts to reverse a long slide. The party hasn't won a statewide contest in Virginia since 2009 and saw its losses mount during Trump's presidency.
Competing in the attorney general's race: Leslie Haley, a Chesterfield County supervisor and law firm owner; Del. Jason S. Miyares (Virginia Beach), a former prosecutor; Chuck Smith, a former Navy judge advocate general; and Jack White, an Army veteran and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Once a winner is declared in that race, vote-counters will start on the contest for the lieutenant governor’s nomination, which is being sought by Puneet Ahluwalia, a political and business consultant in Fairfax County; Lance Allen, a national security company executive in Fauquier County; Del. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (Virginia Beach); former state delegate Timothy D. Hugo (Fairfax); Maeve Rigler, a lawyer; and former delegate Winsome Sears (Norfolk).
Vozzella and Schneider reported from Richmond. Olivo reported from Washington.