Things You Need to Know About Virginia’s Democratic Primary

Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

By Amie Knowles

April 6, 2021

There’s a Democratic primary election taking place June 8, which determines one part of the November ballot.

RUSTBURG – By the morning of June 9, Virginians will likely know who’s the Democratic candidate for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and several delegate seats. That’s because a statewide Democratic primary takes place the day before.

The individuals receiving the most votes during the Democratic primary will appear against their Republican counterparts during the Nov. election, which will determine the ultimate winner. And to be clear, we’re not ignore the Republicans. They’ve opted out of a primary, however. Instead, they’re holding an unassembled convention on May 8.

What’s the difference? In a convention, chosen delegates cast the ballots, rather than opening it up to the entire party.

But how do you sign up to vote? Where do you go to cast a ballot? When can you vote? Let’s take a look.

Looking at the Numbers

Even though the Democratic primary determines this year’s contenders for the party, getting folks to the polls isn’t the simplest task.

A 2016 Demos study found that one-fourth of eligible American voters – 51 million individuals – remained unregistered.

The Virginia Department of Elections keeps up with the number of residents who register to vote in general elections, compared to the number of people who show up at the polls.

In 2020, 5.9 million Virginians registered to vote, while only 4.4 million cast a ballot. That made the total turnout percentage of Virginia’s registered voters 73.85%.

However, in a non-presidential year, the turnout percentage often drops. In 2019, less than half of all registered voters, 42.4%, made their way to the polls. A total of 59.5% of Virginia’s registered voters cast a ballot in 2018.

In 2016, 30.1% of registered Virginia voters took part in the presidential primary, according to the United States Election Project. However, only 21.4% took part in the state’s June 3, 2020 primary.

Kelly Martin, Campbell County general registrar, noted the importance of participating in a primary election.

“It will determine who’s going to be on the ballot in November, so it’s important for them to make sure they come out to vote and do whatever they can so their candidate is on the ballot,” Martin said.

RELATED: Democrats, Republicans Qualify in Governor’s Race

Voter Registration

It doesn’t matter whether a first-time voter gears up toward a primary or general election – they still need to register. The same goes for individuals who moved, changed their name or wish to alter their political affiliation since the last election.

Fortunately, Marie Muir, Norton’s general registrar, noted there are many different ways to register to vote.

“There are so many options for that. It’s very convenient for the voter,” Muir said. “They can go online and do this. They can do this at DMV. Or online at DMV. They can come into our office to do it. There’s a number of different agencies that also will accept your voter registration application.”

In addition to in-person and online options for changing voter registration, individuals may also complete the task over the phone or by mail. USAGov suggests having either a driver’s license number or Social Security number readily available during the process.

Once an individual successfully registers to vote, the local registrar’s office sends a confirmation of that registration.

Martin explained that as long as a resident previously registered for an election – and did not undergo qualifying changes – they did not need to register again.

“The only time they take you off is if you’ve missed two federal elections and you have not responded to any mailings they’ve sent out,” Martin said.

What to Bring to the Polls

When a voter arrives at the polls, they need to prove they are who they say they are. In Virginia, that happens in one of several ways.

“They just need some type of identification,” Muir said. “Photo ID is no longer required. They can even bring in that confirmation that we just mailed them, showing that they’re registered to vote. Most of our voters continue to offer their driver’s license as identification.”

Martin explained that identification requirements now are different from what they were years ago.

“They’ve changed the laws. So it can be your driver’s license, your voter card. It could be your utility bill,” Martin said. “If for some reason they don’t have any of those things, we have an oath that they have to sign confirming that they are who they say they are.”

The Virginia Department of Elections lists nine valid forms of identification on their website. The site also offers expanded identification options.

Open Primary

According to USAGov, during an open primary or caucus, anyone may vote for candidates in any political party. During a closed primary or caucus, only voters registered in that party may vote.

Virginia practices open primaries, along with 14 other states. However, voters still disclose their political affiliation if there are both democrat and republican candidates.

“The only time you have to state [your political affiliation] is when you go to the polls because that determines which ballot you’re going to get,” Martin said.

Important Dates

Similar to the presidential election in November, Virginia will once again practice no excuse absentee voting. That means that individuals may cast their ballot before the June 8 primary date – and they do not need to provide a reason to do so. Here are some other things you need to know about the primary.

  • The first day of in-person absentee voting will take place April 24.
  • The deadline to register to vote or to update voter registration in time for the June 8 primary is May 17.
  • Voters many request a mailed absentee ballot through the May 28 deadline.
  • In-person and absentee voting options will end on June 5 at 5 p.m.
  • The first day of in-person absentee voting will take place April 24.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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