By Frank Blechman
At the end of last week, the first absentee ballots were sent out here in Virginia. In Fairfax County alone, more than 100,000 have already been requested; in Loudoun, over 40,000. For comparison, in the entire 2016 general election, 130,000 early/absentee ballots were requested in Fairfax and 119,000 early/absentee votes were actually cast. We may top 2016’s total numbers by the end of this week.
The pandemic will make this a different election. Clearly, more votes will be cast before the official November 3 election day than ever before. Early voting will reduce the impact of any late-developing campaign themes, bad weather, or an “October surprise.” Beyond that, however, it is impossible to say what the overall impact will be.
In 2016, nearly 80% of registered voters in Fairfax County voted (540,000 of 683,000) for President. We do not know the answers to any of the following questions:
- New voter registration has been going more slowly this year. Will the final number of registered voters be significantly larger or smaller?
- Will the turnout be higher or lower?
- If some voters distrust voting by mail, will that help one party or hurt another?
- If older voters are unwilling to go out of their homes to places where they might be exposed to the pandemic, who will that help or hurt?
- If the voters who vote early and those who vote on election day are demographically different, how will exit-polling be done?
- If the tabulation of early/absentee voting delays the reporting of vote results on election night, will chaos ensue?
We can guess, but we really don’t know.
“No, I can’t vote for you November 3. It would be illegal.”
I applied (https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/Lookup/absentee) for an early/absentee ballot online and should receive my ballot within the next two weeks. I will then have the malicious pleasure of handling phone calls asking if a given candidate can count on my vote November 3 by saying, “No, I can’t vote for you November 3. It would be illegal.” Few volunteers know what to do next.
My consolation in all this is that I am not alone. Nobody now knows the answers to any of the questions I have posed above. We know that we can vote and encourage our friends, family, and neighbors to vote. We know we can keep our perspective about all this, and encourage our friends, family, and neighbors to do the same. We can joke about the madness.
For all my moaning and groaning, I am pretty confident that we will survive this election, and emerge from the challenges a better democracy. Call me Pollyanna.