After Biden and Warner win Virginia, slow counting delays results in downballot contests

By: - November 4, 2020 1:00 am

An election official wipes down a table after every voter in Buckingham County, Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner were quickly declared victors Tuesday in Virginia, but the task of counting an extraordinary amount of absentee ballots left several other contests unresolved early Wednesday morning.

Minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m., the Associated Press said Warner had defeated Republican challenger Daniel Gade. The AP later called the presidential contest for Biden, giving him Virginia’s 13 Electoral College votes if unofficial results hold.

But several competitive congressional races were uncalled as Tuesday turned to Wednesday, with results watchers waiting for local election officials to report their early voting numbers.

The 2.7 million votes cast by mail or in person prior to Election Day muddled the results that appeared Tuesday evening, showing Republican candidates with strong leads in a state predicted to stay solidly Democratic.

Biden pulled ahead of Trump in Virginia shortly after midnight, as more votes from heavily Democratic areas, including populous Fairfax County, started to come in.

Similarly confusing situations played out in some of the congressional races considered most competitive, with the AP unable to call the contests.

Republican House candidate Nick Freitas, a GOP state delegate from Culpeper, greets voters outside a Henrico County polling place on Election Day. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In two of those races, first-term Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico and Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, were trying to hold off challenges from Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, and former Congressman Scott Taylor, respectively.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, greets voters at a polling place in Henrico County on Election Day. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In the third, Democrat Cameron Webb conceded defeat to GOP candidate Bob Good, who beat incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, in a primary this summer.

It wasn’t clear when the outcomes of the other races might be known, but officials will still be counting some late-arriving ballots that come in before noon Friday. Final numbers likely won’t be available until then.

Former Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, a Republican, defeated Democrat Cameron Webb for Virginia’s 5th congressional district seat Tuesday. (Good campaign)

First-term Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, also defeated Republican challenger Aliscia Andrews, according to the AP, and other congressional incumbents appeared headed to re-election with no surprises.

In a hotly contested ballot referendum, voters appeared to signal broad approval for a constructional amendment to largely strip the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts. The amendment would create a 16-member, bipartisan commission that would redraw the state’s political maps starting with the 2021 redistricting process. Early results showed about 66 percent of voters supporting the amendment, with about 3/4 of the expected vote counted.

Voters in four cities also approved local referendums allowing casinos to be built in Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville and Norfolk, giving final approval to a casino legalization push years in the making.

Officials said Election Day went smoothly, with few reported problems.

As voters across the state cast their ballots, several said they were feeling uncertain about what might follow a uniquely important election.

Vonda Wharam, a 54-year-old teacher from Buckingham County, declined to say how she voted but said she’s never felt so uneasy about a presidential contest.

“If Trump wins it’s gonna be a riot. If Biden wins they’re gonna fuss about if the election was valid and true,” Wharam said. “That worries me.”

Jason Conway, a 24-year-old Buckingham voter studying for a job working on power lines, agreed, said he voted for Biden and Webb but was motivated mainly by wanting to get rid of Trump.

“I see the Republican party pushing this line of love your country and God and whatever whatever,” Conway said outside the polling place set up at the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad building. “I think it’s more of an emotion-based reaction versus trying to actually get equality for everyone.”

In Southwest Virginia, Franklin County resident Steve Thompson said he voted “straight Republican.”

“The Democrats are scaring me,” Thompson said. “I think they’re just too radical. They’re going to end up trying to take too many of our rights away from us, or attempt to.”

Marlene St. Clair of Ferrum said she voted for Good in the 5th District race, largely because of his alignment with Trump. “I think he’ll follow through with the things that Trump wants to do,” she said. “He won’t stand in the way of it.”

In Virginia Beach, voters were deciding a rematch between Taylor and Luria, who ran against each other before in 2018.

Former Republican Congressman Scott Taylor campaigns Tuesday outside a polling place in Virginia Beach in an attempt to take back his old seat from Democratic U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk. “Win or lose, I’m going to a beach somewhere” for a little while, he said. (Roger Chesley/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Janise Jenkins, a 39-year-old property manager, said she felt Luria was the better pick for military families.

“I didn’t like the controversy over Scott,” she said, referring to the investigation into the 2018 Taylor campaign’s efforts to get a third-party candidate on the ballot. Two former Taylor campaign staffers pleaded guilty to election fraud charges after evidence emerged showing some of the petition signatures were forged. Taylor has insisted he wasn’t involved.

Shawn Williams, a 31-year-old truck driver, said he voted for Taylor after supporting Luria in 2018.

“The Democrats are pushing me away,” he said.

Taylor himself was working the crowd at Aragona Precinct, one of Virginia Beach’s largest polling places. Asked what he’d do if he lost, Taylor said: “Win or lose, I’m going to a beach somewhere.”

Vicki Farrell, 65, had a sign in the back of her car at the Aragon Precinct in Virginia Beach urging calm following the election. “I’m worried about the report I’m hearing on protests. Antifa doesn’t care.” She said she’ll live and deal with whoever wins the presidential contest. (Roger Chesley/ For the Virginia Mercury)

At the same polling place, Vicki Farrell, 65, felt so strongly about the prospect of post-election unrest she put a sign in her car window with a plea to any voter who saw it. 

It said: “Whoever wins stay calm. ‘We are not enemies but friends.’ – Abraham Lincoln”

Mercury correspondents Roger Chesley and Mason Adams contributed to this report. 

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]