As turnout surges, Virginia has largely been spared the electoral shenanigans … so far

October 14, 2020 12:29 am

Dylan Triplett (left) dances while her mother, Deborah, fills out a ballot at Robious Elementary School in Midlothian, Va., November 5, 2019. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ for the Virginia Mercury)

Virginians obviously didn’t get the memo from pundits that we’re not a swing state in the 2020 presidential election. Residents around the commonwealth have cast ballots in huge numbers, taking advantage of early voting options amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of voters have already avoided the long lines that are commonplace every four years. As I write this, more than 887,000 residents in the state have voted in person, by mail or by dropping off ballots at the registrar’s office or at official drop boxes. 

I was one of them. I stopped off last week with my oldest daughter at the Chesapeake voter registrar’s office – both masked up, of course – and moved quickly through the short line. Then I cast my choices for president, U.S. House and Senate, plus a couple of constitutional amendments. The process was 10 minutes, tops. 

Chesapeake also has early voting sites and drop boxes at several city libraries. (Check with your individual locality for more information about early voting.)

It’s to the credit of state Democratic legislators that they’ve opened up absentee voting so you no longer need an excuse – even before we knew more than 214,000 Americans would die from coronavirus. Then, during the current special session, lawmakers approved several measures to make it easier to vote by mail and set up drop boxes in localities, helping to keep folks safer from infection. 

We’re turning out in large numbers even though our purple state has gone blue in the past three presidential contests. Both the Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics say the contest in Virginia is “likely” for Democrat Joe Biden. 

TV ads for President Donald Trump were nearly non-existent in Hampton Roads till a few weeks ago, suggesting his campaign and the Republican Party weren’t putting too much money and staffers in the commonwealth. He lost Virginia by 5 percentage points to Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump’s only defeat among Southern states.

Of course, we all know what the conventional wisdom predicted that year nationwide, and what actually happened on Election Day.

Lots of things have run well during early voting in Virginia, and the number to cast ballots so far exceeds the 538,410 that did so in 2016, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Some hiccups have occurred, however. Among them: 

The state’s voter registration database was down Tuesday, the last day to register for the Nov. 3 contests. And the U.S. Postal Service and state Department of Elections said six mailboxes in central Virginia were broken into in early October. Officials said it was unclear whether any – or how much – election mail was in the boxes. 

Voting news from around the country is more contentious, more ominous. That’s especially so since Trump has repeatedly criticized mail-in votes, though he takes advantage of the option himself.

Two knuckleheaded, political provocateurs face felony charges for allegedly intimidating voters in several major cities with large Black populations – including Detroit – with false information designed to discourage people from voting by mail. Law enforcement officials said tens of thousands of people received the misleading robocalls, which told listeners not to be “finessed into giving your private information to the man.” 

Did they think we were still in the era of 1970s blaxploitation films? The callers and their operation deserved rebuke – at the very least for that trip down memory lane. 

Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman had a court appearance in Detroit last week by video conference. They’ve previously been the source of outlandish conspiracy theories, news reports said, and media briefings in Burkman’s driveway. He lives in Arlington, Va. 

I’m particularly incensed by the meddling in Detroit, my home for 14 years. The city has long dealt with poverty, unemployment, population loss and corruption. It certainly doesn’t need this political chicanery, which is intended to tamp down the Black and Brown vote. 

Michigan voted narrowly for Trump in 2016, a jolt to Democrats in what had been a reliably blue state in recent presidential elections. Black turnout in Detroit and Flint was tepid that year, so it’s clear what the recent robocalls were trying to accomplish. 

In California, meanwhile, state officials have ordered GOP leaders there to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes. The impromptu sites are rife for vote tampering. It’s as if Republicans there want to sow confusion in a state that is solidly blue in presidential contests.

Given the political shenanigans elsewhere, Virginia looks downright tame. You can still do your part, if you haven’t already. 

Vote early, or vote on Nov. 3. Given the pandemic, the economy and race relations across the country, it’s too important to sit this one out. 

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]