More than 43,000 mail-in ballots still haven’t been turned in by Virginia voters.

AXTON-By the time early voting ended on Saturday, more than 102,000 people had cast a ballot. That’s 30% higher than Virginia’s numbers for 2017, when 26,575 people voted early. But with that done and the primary coming up tomorrow, there’s still some questions to answer. As of Saturday, 43,052 people had not returned their mail-in ballot. What happens to them? And when will they be counted? 

Still Time To Send a Ballot

First and foremost, if you still have a mail-in ballot, you have time to turn it in. And you have multiple ways to make that happen. 

“They actually can return them up until 7 p.m. on Election Day. And they have several options for that. They can mail them back to our office. They can bring them back in person,” said Barbara Gunter, Bedford County’s general registrar. “Or we also have drop boxes that are at both our voting center and the registrar’s office where they can drop them into those ballot drop boxes. Then on Election Day itself, at every regular voting precinct there will be a ballot drop box. They just go straight into the precinct and can drop it into that ballot dropbox. And then they’ll be collected and brought back to the central absentee precinct.” 

Those same rules apply in every city and county across the Commonwealth. Gunter said 238 mail-in ballots still hadn’t been returned in Bedford. In other areas, the numbers reach much higher, at 1,000 or more. 

There’s also a question of what happens for someone who lost their mail-in ballot. Yes, you can still vote. You can go to your local registrar’s office and cast a ballot in person. You can also ask for another mail-in ballot, but Gunter cautioned that given the limited amount of time until tomorrow’s primary, there was no guarantee ballots would arrive in time for the election. 

Voter Turnout

Historically speaking, fewer people vote in primary elections compared to the Novemberl elections that determine the ultimate winner. 

Looking at the numbers, 4,486,821 Virginians voted in the November 2020 Presidential Election. Only 540,855 voted in the primary last year – and that number includes both Democrats and Republicans. 

Although there’s a current uptick of early primary votes across the state, that’s not the case everywhere.

An election official in Fairfax County said that compared to 2017, the county did not see an increase or decrease in the amount of people participating in early voting, despite the no-excuse absentee option currently in place.

In Bedford, meanwhile, the numbers are pretty low. 

“We’ve had, as of this morning, only 336 having voted in person at our voting center and in my office. For ballots that had been returned marked or preprocessed – you know, the ones that have already been sent back to us – we’re just around 300,” Gunter said. “We had very, very low turnout.”

The election official in Fairfax County noted that approximately 46% of voters returned their mail-in ballot. However, the county still awaits approximately 9,500 outstanding mail-in ballots. That’s a far cry from the 600,823 votes from the county last November. 

Gunter said she’s unsure why fewer people vote in a primary than in a general election.

“There just doesn’t seem to be the interest in it for this election,” Gunter said. “Local elections on the ballot – if you have school board and Board of Supervisors – tend to generate a little higher turnout in primary elections than our statewide offices.”

Counting the Ballot

So what happens to the mail-in ballots delivered on Primary Day? This could be a longer night than most primaries, as each local election team will count them all after the polls close. 

“Ballots that are put into the drop boxes – because we don’t collect them until after 7 p.m. on Election Day – are included in the updated numbers that are posted on Friday after the election,” Gunter said. 

While the turnout for primaries typically pales in comparison to general elections, Gunter expressed the importance of getting out to vote.

“[It’s] to have your voice, to exercise your voice,” Gunter said.

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com 

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