An election with integrity in Virginia

As the vote counting continues in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and elsewhere, Virginia should take a moment to be thankful, because the commonwealth’s smooth and drama-free election was no accident.

From poll workers to local election officials, lawmakers to the voters themselves, everyone who participated deserves some measure of credit for conducting a vote under extraordinary conditions in a manner that kept people safe, improved voter access and delivered results quickly and without controversy.

The outcome of the presidential race in Virginia was never really in doubt. Former Vice President Joe Biden held a commanding lead in the polls since he won the Democratic Party nomination and never faltered against President Donald Trump in the quest for the commonwealth’s 13 electoral votes.

The results of last week’s vote are not yet official, but officials report more than 4.3 million ballots cast in the presidential race, which equates to a roughly 72% turnout. That would be on par with 2016 and 1996, per Virginia Department of Elections records, but less than the 74% turnout in 2008 and a whopping 84% in 1992.

The wildcard this year, of course, was the pandemic. The coronavirus required election officials to think about how to accommodate millions of voters safely and responsibly so that polling places didn’t become super-spreader sites where voters could contract the virus, causing a community outbreak.

Thankfully, local and state election officials had a willing partner in that effort: the General Assembly. The Democratic majority which won control of the legislature last November came to Richmond in January with a slate of changes to improve election access and make voting easier.

Those changes included a no-excuse absentee voting option to allow voters to complete a ballot at home and mail it in, expanded in-person early voting times, designating Election Day as a state holiday and automatic voter registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Those changes did cause some hiccups in reporting vote totals on election night. Officials were working to complete the tally of in-person votes that day while also processing an unprecedented number of early votes and absentee ballots — all while trying to meet an 11 p.m. deadline for reporting those results.

But ultimately the totals were reported and as Tuesday slipped into Wednesday, and the nation’s focus turned to a handful of states which would decide the presidency, Virginia enjoyed a relatively clear and nearly complete view of its results, save for overseas and military ballots that could be received up to three days later.

Subsequent attention given to the vote-counting process elsewhere offers an important reminder here: The people who conduct elections are, by and large, residents who volunteer to serve in voting precincts.

They help keep the process moving, resolving problems as needed and ensuring the can be every confidence in the results. This year, they also worked to sanitize polling stations and ensure that everyone who cast a ballot could do so safely, even in a pandemic.

Remember that volunteers are needed in every election, not just the ones which generate the most attention. Anyone interested should contact their local department of elections or registrar to serve as an election officer.

A special mention is due, as well, to the city of Virginia Beach, whose real-time updates of early voting waiting times offered valuable information for those looking to cast a ballot prior to Election Day. That’s government working on your behalf, and kudos to city staff for maintaining it.

There is always room for improvement in the conduct of our elections. We can make voting easier and convenient to more people, boosting outcome and providing results that are the most accurate representation of the public will.

This year, we saw that happen in real time —from planning to legislation to execution — and Virginia should be proud to have delivered on the promise of conducting an election with integrity, even in extraordinary conditions.


©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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