It is becoming increasingly clear that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how Americans vote in elections. During the height of the pandemic in late 2020, many Americans opted to vote by mail or vote early to maintain safety and lower their risk of contracting or spreading the virus.
While many states and territories automatically shifted to sending blank ballots to their voters by mail during the pandemic, many voters had to manually request a ballot from their state or county’s board of elections.
This is still the case for Virginia. To get a mail ballot, voters must fill out a request online, then send the form to their Registrar’s office to receive a ballot before election day. These requested ballots must be mailed or delivered back to the Registrar’s office before polls close on election day. Polls are open across Virginia from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Ann Nelson, 74, said she voted early in person so she could work the Virginia Democrats table all day. “I went by the Registrar’s office a few days ago and thought I might as well. It was convenient.”
Nelson added that her husband, also working the Virginia Democrats table, hadn’t voted yet but planned to once he had a free moment.
The Virginia Republican party was also represented with a table outside the door to the high school. Fauquier High School in Warrenton, Virginia, is one of 25 polling places across Fauquier County.
Bill Divello at the Republican table and the Nelsons at the Democrats’ are stationed there to direct voters to the correct entrance and to hand out sample ballots for their party, all in the interest of helping people get in and out efficiently.
Divello, 75, said he did vote early at the Registrar’s office this time so he could be at the table this morning at 6:00, but he prefers voting in person on election day. “Tradition,” he said, “I grew up that way.”
While it is likely many polling places across the country have seen increased tension among voters, volunteers, and poll workers the last few election cycles, that has not been the case at Fauquier High School this morning. The only tension happened earlier in the day when the entrance to the voting area had been moved to a different door than people were accustomed to.
Nelson said there was some confusion due to a girls’ basketball tournament that had forced school organizers to redirect voters through a different door on the side of the building to access the voting area. She said people are used to a specific entrance, and some voters were visibly upset by the change, some even complaining of voter suppression.
Organizers eventually moved the entrance back to the original door.
There have been over 940k early votes cast in Virginia for the 2022 General Elections this November. Since early voting began in late September, many more people in Virginia have decided to vote early in person or by mail than in past years. In the 2018 midterms, less than 350k people voted early.
In the states where early voting is available, the rates vary according to voter demographics, such as party affiliation, gender, and age.
Since 2018, the rates of mail-in ballot use in Virginia have increased for Democrats while largely staying the same for Republicans. Virginia does not use partisan voter registration, so this data is based on modeled party.
When considering age demographics, voters in Virginia aged 50-64 have consistently voted by mail from 2018 to now, while those in the 65-74 range have been voting by mail more consistently in 2022 than in past years. People aged 18-49 have voted early or by mail less consistently.
While election officials are still counting, this year’s numbers so far pale in comparison to the 2020 General Election. Nearly 3 million people voted early during the 2020 Presidential election, compared to less than half of that for both 2016 and 2018.
While other areas of the country may be seeing a more significant shift from in-person to mail-in or early voting, it is clear that has not yet been the case in at least this area of Virginia.