Was Election Day a ‘lot of mess’ or ‘relatively smooth?’ Depends who you ask.

    High turnout meant long lines at many polling places, including Henrico County's Short Pump precinct, where the number of votes for Democrats has surged since Trump's 2016 election. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

    At a State Board of Elections meeting Monday, Chris Piper, commissioner of the Department of Elections said this year’s midterm elections had “unprecedented” turnout and went “relatively smooth.”

    “We had a strong day,” Piper told the Board of Elections on Monday. “It was a huge turnout for a midterm election.”

    Early estimates have voter turnout at 51 percent of registered voters, Piper said. The department will calculate an exact turnout rate soon, but it has to be done after the certification process, which happened at Monday’s meeting.

    More than 344,000 absentee ballots were turned in, which was a significant increase over the 2014 midterm election, Piper said.

    There were some early reports of malfunctioning equipment in Henrico County on Election Day and later, bigger problems in Chesterfield County, where long lines led to a court order to keep some polling places open that Republicans said wasn’t carried out.

    “We dealt with some issues and we were able to run through them relatively smoothly,” Piper said at Monday’s meeting.

    But Board of Elections member Clara Belle Wheeler had a less rosy take on the day.

    “We had a lot of mess in Virginia,” she said.

    Wheeler, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Albemarle County and longtime Republican, said she heard about various election laws not being followed and unprepared localities.

    She compared Election Day to the nursery rhyme “There Was a Little Girl,” which describes a child who was good, but “when she was bad she was horrid.”

    “I think that is very applicable to this election,” Wheeler said. “There was a vast majority of localities … when they were good, they were very very good . … The places that had problems had horrendous problems.”

    The board will receive a full report on Election Day problems at its Dec. 21 meeting, Piper said.

    “Every election serves as an opportunity to learn,”  said James Alcorn, chairman of the board. “There were definitely some hotspots where there are more opportunities to learn than others.”