RICHMOND — Virginia voters now have a lengthened, 45-day election period to vote in person or by mail via absentee ballot. The state also offers same-day voter registration now, having scrapped the traditional cut off date of about three weeks before the election.
The longer election period has appeared to be popular among voters, according to Keith Balmer, director of elections for City of Richmond. However, turnout in Richmond seems to have dropped compared to the 2018 midterm elections, he said.
“The turnout was over 50%,” he said. “Four years later the turnout for this election looks like it’s going to be about 41, maybe 42%.”
Voter turnout statewide this election is projected to be around 48%, according to the Washington Post. Over 972,000 people voted early, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, or VPAP. Almost 70% of those votes were cast in person.
The midterm elections went smoothly around the state, other than a few hiccups, according to an election night update from Susan Beals, the commissioner of the Department of Elections. There were no specific reports of voter harassment or intimidation at the polls, according to the Virginia Mercury.
There has not been a need to increase the number of election officers in Richmond in response to the longer election season, according to Balmer. There are less election officers needed during midterm elections compared to presidential elections, he said, and even less needed during early voting because the lines aren’t as long.
Richmond had approximately 700 election officers for the midterm elections, according to Balmer. About 10 officers on average are deployed throughout each of the district’s 72 precincts, he said.
“It’s like having an election precinct, but for 45 days,” he said. “So it requires more resources as far as staffing to make sure everybody can cast a ballot.”
Election officers have many positions to fulfill, including being a greeter, poll book officer, ballot officer, voting equipment and booth officer, chief officer, assistant chief officer and electoral board, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website.
Evelyn Davis has been an election officer for 20 years, and she was previously chief of elections in her Richmond precinct, she said. Davis started working behind the scenes at the Central Absentee Precinct, or CAP, four years ago.
CAP functions as one precinct that handles all absentee ballots, whether done by mail or in person.
“I have learned quite a bit about politics, which at first I had no interest in,” Davis said.
Early voting and Election Day went smoothly for the midterm elections, according to Davis. Davis hopes to return to the normal precincts eventually, because she’s a people person, she said.
“To see the people just coming out like they did to vote,” Davis said, referring to her favorite part of being an election officer.
Election officers play an important role in getting voters to come back for each election, according to Davis.
“They work year round here,” Davis said.
Davis said her respect has grown substantially for those that work at the Office of Elections, after seeing the work they do to prepare officers.
“You get to see the hard work they put in,” said Katherin Cardozo, communications director for Richmond’s Office of Elections. She is a recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate with a double major in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. This was her first time working the election season, she said.
“Now they kind of make more time out of their daily lives to work for that early voting period,” Cardozo said.
The Department of Justice created a task force last year to address increasing hostility toward election workers, namely in states with close elections. The Election Threats Task Force reviewed over 1,000 contacts reported as harassing or hostile, according to an August DOJ update. Virginia was not 1 of 7 states that experienced the majority of potentially criminal threats.
Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.