Early voting rates are higher than they have been in over a century, reflecting Americans’ strong interest in this year’s presidential election. With early voting, there are two options available for voters: mail-in absentee ballots and early in-person voting at their county’s election office. In Montgomery County, Virginia, the registrar’s total count of voters is 62,937. Of those people, 16,154 have voted early in person, as of 4:25 p.m. on Oct. 29.
Connie Viar, the director of elections and voter registration in Montgomery County explained the uptake in early voting and changes in Virginia that affect this year’s elections.
“Early voting is new this year,” Viar said. “We always had absentee voting ahead of the presidential election. With absentee voting, you had to have a reason to vote absentee, an approved excuse by the General Assembly. For the presidential election it was in-person early voting, no excuse, no application.
Previous elections in Virginia required an acceptable excuse to vote early, such as illness or travel. Over the summer, that law was overturned, taking Virginia off the list of over a dozen states that don’t allow for early voting unless a person has what the state government deems a “valid excuse.”
“The General Assembly special session just wrapped up,” Viar said. “We had a lot of election laws out of that.
Some of the other changes include ballot drop boxes at every polling precinct, the election office and the New River Valley Mall. If a ballot is received with missing information, the election office has three days to contact the voter to cure it. Additionally, if a ballot is postmarked by Election Day, it will be counted as long as it comes in by the Friday after the election by noon.
Another feature of early voting is its ability to predict full voter turnout rates. According to Reuters, over 80 million people across America have already voted. The 2016 presidential election had 47 million early voters out of 138 million total voter participation. Analysts claim that these proportions indicate that the number of people who vote this year will easily surpass the number from 2016.
Of these numbers, Democrats have a substantially higher early voter turnout than Republicans. Historically, Republicans were avid participants in mail-in voting, but President Trump's vocalized distrust of mail-in ballots is credited for this change. Twenty states publicly report party registration data, revealing that 11.5 million Republicans have already voted, compared with 18.7 million Democrats and 8.8 million people who aren’t affiliated with a party.
These party turnout rates may also distort our prediction of election results. If significantly more Democrats are voting, Biden’s chance of winning will seem very promising. However, if a considerable number of Republicans are waiting to vote until Nov. 3, it’ll be harder to gauge Trump’s true chances before then.
“It’ll be great to get this many people through the lines that will not be there on Election Day. We’re thankful,” Viar said. “If they show up on Election Day, just be mindful to wear masks with social distancing and (expect) for the lines to be long if they wait (until) the last minute, especially on Virginia Tech’s campus. Looking at the numbers right now, students are not showing up to vote early.”
Viar expressed how useful it’s been to have so many new Virginia election laws and people voting early.
“It’s important that every voter votes, either early, (by) mail or on Election Day,” Viar said. “I think it benefits everyone if everyone that’s registered to vote, votes.”