Two General Assembly seats are up for grabs in special elections.
NORFOLK – There are two Virginia elections taking place next week.
If that’s news to you, you’re not alone. So far, early voting has been nearly nonexistent in House District 2 and House District 90.
Now yes, District 90 just had an election. In November, Del. Joe Lindsey was re-elected for another term. However, days later he resigned, accepting an appointment as a general district court judge in Norfolk.
That left the district lacking a delegate.
In December, another spot was left vacant when Jennifer Carroll Foy resigned from House District 2. Foy said she was stepping down to focus on her campaign for governor.
On Dec. 1, Gov. Ralph Northam announced a special election for both seats, set for only one month later. By mid-December in District 90, the Norfolk City Democratic Committee selected Angelia Williams Graves for their contender. The Norfolk GOP Caucus chose Sylvia Bryant to vie for the seat. Meanwhile, Candi King won a firehouse primary to claim the Democratic nomination in District 2. She’ll face Heather Mitchell, the only Republican to file.
A slipping opportunity
Similar to the 2020 presidential election last month, residents in both districts have the option to vote early. They can either do that in person or submit a mail-in ballot.
Voters don’t have to give a reason for voting early, nor do they need a witness’s signature on a mail-in ballot. Early voting times and locations vary for the different races. For District 2, it’s split between Prince William County and Stafford County. In Prince William, early voting sites are set up at the Board of Elections office, 9250 Lee Ave. in Manassas and at Veterans Park, 14300 Featherstone Road in Woodbridge. Voters can show up today or Dec. 31 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Early voting is also available Jan. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Meanwhile in Stafford County, you can vote early at the local registrar’s office. That’s at 1300 Courthouse Road in Stafford. The site is open today and Dec. 31 from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Jan. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For District 90, the vote is divided between Norfolk and Virginia Beach. In Virginia Beach, you can do it at the Municipal Center, Building 14, located at 2449 Princess Anne Rd. Times range from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Dec. 31. On Saturday, Jan. 2, voters may submit their ballots from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is the deadline to vote absentee in-person for the Jan. 5 special election.
In Norfolk, it’s all done curbside at City Hall, located at 810 Union St. When voters arrive, they simply call 757-664-4353 and an election official will assist them throughout the voting process. The Norfolk office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Dec. 31. Voters can also come from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Jan. 2.
Lack of participation
With multiple options available to voters, the registrars in Norfolk and Virginia Beach waited. And waited. And waited. Oddly, with only a week to go, very few individuals displayed interest in the early voting opportunities.
In Norfolk, where 19 precincts make up the majority of the voters, a sliver of the residents who voted absentee in the presidential election did the same for the special election.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 102 voters cast their ballot in-person in Norfolk. The district mailed out 159 ballots to local residents and sent more through email overseas to service members.
Stephanie Iles, Norfolk’s general registrar, expressed that the numbers didn’t compare to the election last month.
“The turnout was enormous in the presidential election for absentee. We did over 18,000 mail-outs the first weekend,” Iles said. “And then some people, of course, didn’t want to wait for ballots and came in. So a lot of people voted in-person because everybody was concerned about the post office and what was going on in the news media with regards to the post office.”
Between mail-in ballots and in-person early voting, 58,370 Norfolk residents voted prior to Nov. 3.
Given the lack of early voter participation for the special election, Iles speculated on the low number.
“Maybe people are not aware of it,” Iles said. “And of course the presidential was all of our precincts, all of our voters. This is only a portion of our city. This is 19 precincts, a little over 50,400 [people].”
A startling number
In Virginia Beach, there are even fewer voters who turned out for early voting as of Tuesday morning. A small portion of the city’s residents reside in the 90th district, about 80 people, said Christine Lewis, Virginia Beach’s deputy registrar.
“We’ve had zero vote in-person, by mail,” Lewis said.
The deputy registrar cited little interest because of the holidays as the most likely reason a single voter hadn’t shown up with a week left to go.
“And they probably don’t know that there’s an election going on and that they’re in the 90th,” Lewis said.
Ironically, more people outside of the 90th district tried to perform their patriotic duty than those actually in the voting locale.
“We’ve had people apply, but they’re not even close to that district,” Lewis said.
Lewis estimated that out of the 80 registered voters, between 10 and 15 would likely hit the polls on Jan. 5.
Both Lewis and Iles suggested checking online before trying to cast a ballot in the 90th district. In some circumstances, next door neighbors reside in separate districts.
“Two of our precincts, however, are split districts. So there may be people registered in that precinct, but they’re not in the 90th district,” Iles said. “We always encourage people to check their registration online to make sure they’re registered and check where their district is. They may show up and they’re in the other district.”
“People will see signs and think, you know, they need to go out and vote,” Iles said. “But they should check to make sure it’s their district that’s actually having an election.”
Tabulating the votes
With so few voters expected in Virginia Beach, Lewis noted it would not take long to count the ballots.
“It will take us a few minutes,” Lewis said
In Norfolk, the process will likely take a bit longer, but not drastically.
“We should have the unofficial results, of course, election evening. But we still cannot certify until after noon on Friday after the election because of the law change. Ballots that are postmarked by Election Day and received up until noon on the Friday after the election; they have to be counted. We won’t have the final numbers until after noon on Friday.”
The extended time also allows people who did not bring proper voting identification an opportunity to provide that document by noon on Friday. Then and only then, their provisional ballot also becomes a valid vote.
Election Day voting in the 90th district from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Jan. 5. The same goes for voting in District 2, as that’ll go on from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]