Early voting in Fairfax County started strong last week, and gained national media attention for the long lines and, on Saturday, a demonstration by Trump supporters that elicited police intervention. Fortunately, both Friday and Saturday were beautiful, weatherwise, so that voters could socially distance on the grassy approaches to the front door of the Fairfax County Government Center. In ordinary times, the line would have appeared shorter, but 300 masked voters social distancing can take up a lot of space. In all, more than 2000 people voted in the first two days, and more record lines are anticipated as early voting continues.
Inside the building, masks and social distancing continued, and an additional room with voting machines was opened to accommodate the crowds wishing to vote. According to election officials, slow moving lines also are attributable to voters discovering that there are four county bond referenda, and two proposed state constitutional amendments, which they may not have been prepared to consider. Whichever method they are planning to use (in person absentee, mail ballot, or assigned precinct on Election Day), voters are encouraged to familiarize themselves with the language of the questions before entering the voting booth. Non-partisan ballot information is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/elections/upcoming. Voters may take their notes about voting, or a sample ballot, into the privacy of the booth.
Also gaining national media attention was a demonstration on Saturday by several dozen Trump supporters who shouted, waved flags, and created a situation that some voters characterized as intimidating. The demonstrators were unwilling to respond when asked by elections officials to move back, and away from the main entrance so reluctantly, police were called. When the officers arrived, the demonstrators filed back to the outside booth of their political party, and some of the protesters even got in line to go inside to vote. Some people wondered why the demonstrators were not arrested, but cooler heads prevailed, the demonstrators finally complied, and order was restored. The protestors got their headlines, which would have been uglier, and played right into their hands, if legitimate voters were arrested.
Earlier this year, there was real concern about the lack of election officers for the November election. Many longtime election officers are aging, or have moved away, so the long hours required on Election Day are a barrier for some. An appeal went out, and nearly 3,900 new election officer applications were submitted to Fairfax County during the summer. That’s about five times as many applications as received in past elections. The Office of Elections notes there is tremendous interest in serving this election. Any registered voter in Virginia may serve as an election officer, and county residents are prioritized if there is a surplus of officers (many applications are from people who live outside Fairfax County). Election officers must take training and are offered a stipend for Election Day. Despite early voting and mail-in ballots, the turnout at the precincts on Election Day could be high. Voters in line at 7 p.m. when the polls close, can cast their ballots until all voters in line have done so. In 2008, in one Mason District precinct, it was after 10 p.m. when the last voter in line was served.
In-person absentee voting at the various satellite locations, including the Mason District Governmental Center and the Thomas Jefferson branch library, begins on Oct. 14 at 1 p.m.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]