Charlottesville is bracing for larger than normal turnout during next Tuesday's election but an hour east, enthusiasm is waning in Richmond.
It’s a tale told by absentee ballots, which can be a good indicator of turnout on Election Day. In Charlottesville, those ballots are pouring in. But in Richmond, a city steeped in politics, things are a bit slower.
“Traditionally the city of Richmond votes heavily in these sorts of things. So far, we are not seeing it,” said Kirk Showalter, Richmond’s voter registrar.
Five days until Election Day, Showalter is paring down what she expects to see at the polls. “I initially estimated about 51 percent turnout. Now, I'm thinking maybe not so much, between 40 and 45 percent,” she said.
That's based in part on a lower number of absentee ballots cast so far. But in other parts of the state it's a different story. James City County is just one-third the size of Richmond.
“They had over 1,000 in-person absentee voters. City of Richmond has so far only had about 600,” Showalter said.
Charlottesville is also seeing more engagement. It's seen almost 1,000 absentee ballots cast, about half of them in person.
“I think people realize that especially their vote really is counting. So it's exciting to see, it's what we want to see, it's what we live for. It's our Super Bowl day,” said Charlottesville’s voter registrar, Sheri Iachetta.
Absentee votes in Charlottesville are on track to surpass 2009 numbers. That could have something to do with easier, online voter registration which began this year. But Iachetta has another theory.
“We have hotly contested local elections, and I think people are taking it to heart,” she said.
Spurred by two competitive City Council races and high-profile visitors, Iachetta expects a larger turnout than in past years. “I'm probably thinking it's going to be between 40 and 45 percent, but for a local election that's huge,” she said.
You'll notice registrars in Charlottesville and Richmond expect a turnout somewhere in the low 40s. For Richmond, that's low compared to past elections. But in Charlottesville, that's pretty good.
Friday and Saturday are your last chances to cast an absentee ballot.