In Virginia, it’s always an election year. With state offices decided in odd-numbered years and federal in even years, those self-serving and opponent-skewering TV ads never stop. Surveys show that Virginians wear out the mute buttons on their TV remotes twice as fast as the national average. (Well, maybe not, but it sure feels that way.)
This is what’s called an off-off-year, with no federal races on the ballot. However, it’s also the year when we elect a new governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, plus members of the General Assembly in addition to local offices.
Election Day is Nov. 2, but the real red-letter date has already passed: Sept. 17. That’s the first day in which Virginians could vote early in person. It’s more important now than most years, with pandemic fears making many of us wary of crowds we might encounter on the first Tuesday in November.
Last year, nearly 4.4 million Virginians voted in the presidential election. Of those, 2.75 million, or more than 62%, voted early, either absentee or in person. Combine that with the fact that this is an off-off year, and maybe those polling places won’t be so crowded after all.
Still, the idea of voting early seems to have caught on. The state has made voter registration offices open two Saturdays, Oct. 23 and 30. Some localities are also allowing Sunday voting.
Obviously, an effort is being made to get as many people to the polls as possible. Even with all this access, though, don’t expect another 4.4 million to exercise their right to participate this year.
It’s called voter fatigue. The downside of having an election every year is, well, having an election every year. “Didn’t we just do this?” is a common and understandable response.
In the presidential election of 2016, almost 4 million Virginians voted. In the off-off year of 2017 (just House of Delegates and state offices, same as 2021), 2.6 million voted. About two-thirds as many of us came out the year after the presidential election. That’s been pretty much the story for some time.
For state Democrats, who’ve made a strong effort to get more people registered in recent years, this is worrisome. Will those new voters bond with the process enough to show up when “only” the governorship and control of the state House are at stake?
The GOP is making a big push, even getting a boost from Donald J. Trump, whose election to the presidency in 2016 inspired much of that Democratic push for more voters. Trump, who will never concede that he lost the 2020 election, said in a recent speech backing Republican candidates in Virginia, “You know they cheat in elections.”
But the only cheating in this election will likely occur if voters cheat themselves out of the chance to have a voice in the state’s future. The only way to avoid that is to vote.