ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - With just days until the election, millions of Virginians have already cast their vote. Three localities in central Virginia are helping to leading the pack across the commonwealth when it comes to early voting. Analysts say the increased early turnout could foreshadow record voting totals when all the ballots are counted.
Early voting has been the story of the 2020 election so far. With relaxed rules, more than four times as many voters are casting their ballots early when compared to 2016: 2,307,928 this election versus 574,872 in the last. Three central Virginia localities, Albemarle County, Fluvanna County, and the city of Charlottesville, are in the top 15 localities based on percentage of registered voters voting early.
“It’s been just a steady stream of people,” Albemarle County Registrar Jake Washburne said. “We anticipated we’d see more early voting than we had before, both because of the change in the law and because of COVID, but I didn’t expect this much.”
Albemarle County has seen one of the biggest spikes in early voting commonwealth-wide. According to data gathered by the Virginia Public Access Project, 37,513 voters in Albemarle have already cast their ballots – 43.66% of those registered. Charlottesville has seen a similar increase: 15,569 have already voted, equivalent to 42.88% of registered voters. Both of those areas, and 11 of the top 15 early voting localities in general, voted for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.
University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato says that’s not surprising.
“Just like wearing masks has become partisan, how you vote has become partisan,” Sabato explained. "Democrats have decided overwhelmingly to vote early, mainly because they’re worried their vote won’t be counted.”
However, some areas that voted for President Trump in 2016 also crack the list, like Fluvanna County, where 9,167 have already voted. That’s 43.6% of all voters in the county. While that probably is also influenced by the pandemic, it’s something Sabato says probably relates to the demographics of early voters from elections before the pandemic.
“Normally, you don’t look so much at partisanship, you look at other factors, including age,” Sabato explained. “Many times senior citizens may have physical problems, or they may worry even outside a pandemic about the potential for disease, coming into contact with those who may have colds or flus.”
All told, the increased interest in early voting could be pointing to a record turnout at the polls this election.
“Nationally, we had close to 130.8 million vote back in 2016, in that presidential election," Sabato said. "This year, the lowest estimate I’ve heard is 150 million.”
If you’re looking to cast your ballot early in-person, and avoid potential lines at the polls on Election Day, you can do so, but the last day is Saturday, October 31 - Halloween.