What to expect locally as votes are cast and counted

By Bridget Manley, publisher

While many voters will head to the polls Tuesday, the precincts won’t be nearly as crowded as past presidential elections now that a total of about 40 percent of Harrisonburg voters already cast ballots either at the early voting precinct at City Hall or through the mail. 

Nearly 7,200 voters cast ballots at City Hall since September, and more than 3,200 mailed in ballots by Saturday, according to figures from Director of Elections and General Registrar Mark Finks. Harrisonburg has 26,077 registered voters. 

All the early votes and the avalanche of mailed-in ballots could complicate the reporting of Election Night results. 

Polls close at 7 p,m. in Virginia. Usually, the registrar and other election officials receive results that are called in from each precinct, often with in an hour or two of polls closing. 

Finks told The Citizen that according to guidance they have received from the Virginia Department of Elections, they have until 11 p.m. Tuesday evening to post the unofficial counts.  

Finks said his office started counting the absentee mail-in vote beginning a few weeks ago on Saturdays. 

After all the local precincts have called in vote numbers, Harrisonburg — like other localities — will then count the Central Absentee Precinct’s numbers , said Andrea Gaines, director of Community Relations & Compliance Support for the Virginia Department of Elections. 

“All mail in voting and early in person voting will be reported in each locality’s central absentee precinct (CAP). While absentee ballots can be processed prior to Election Day, no tabulation can occur until after polls have closed,” Gaines said in an email. “The Department of Elections gave localities a cut off time of 11 p.m. to stop processing ballots and report those numbers. Counting will resume on Wednesday. Some localities may report earlier than 11 p.m.”

The early voting machines have been taking photographs of each ballot as it has been received, Finks said. The machine has already been tallying each early vote, but election officials won’t know those totals until they run the tape Tuesday night . 

Ballot drop boxes and Tuesday postmarks

There also will be drop boxes at every precinct today for those who have not mailed back their absentee ballots. Those ballots, along with the ballots received in the mail Tuesday, will be counted throughout the day and included in Tuesday night’s count.

“We will count as much of [those] as we can on Election Day,” Finks said. 

They are mandated by Virginia to wait until Friday to get a finalized count of the rest of the mailed-in ballots postmarked by Tuesday and continuing into the weekend.

Finks said early voting in the city was a general success, with good turnout throughout the process. 

“Everything has been going smoothly, everything has been rolling along like we hoped it would,” Finks said. “We haven’t run into any major issues, and we, the last couple of days had a little bit of a line, but even still, I don’t think anyone has had to wait longer than 20 minutes.” 

Tensions rising

Still, anxieties are high as President Donald Trump has encouraged supporters to watch polls, and Virginia is a “moderate” risk for militia activity in the wake of election results. Scott Drugo, intelligence officer for the Harrisonburg Police Department, said he has not heard of reports of any planned harassment or voter intimidation. 

Harrisonburg Police will be stationed at polling locations during the day. 

“As a purely precautionary measure we will have dedicated officers posted near polling locations,” Drugo said in an email. “This is not something specific to this election. We do this every election.”

Drugo said anyone with concerns should report suspicious behavior to election officials or the police department. 

“Always be aware of your surroundings. This is advice for any day or any time you are among a crowd. If you see something out of place or observe someone acting suspicious do not hesitate to call the police or inform some of the site workers,” Drugo said.  “HPD is taking polling site security serious and we. do not want citizens to skip their civic duty because of safety concerns.”

While it promises to be a long night — and potentially a long few days — for the presidential and some U.S. Senate races to be officially decided, local officials hope to have some clarity Tuesday night about the Harrisonburg races: chiefly the city council races and the school board contests in which three seats are up in each. 

Two incumbents, Mayor Deanna Reed (D) and George Hirschmann (I), and three first-time candidates, Democrats Laura Dent and Charles Hendricks, plus Republican Kathleen Kelley are running for Harrisonburg City Council. 

Four candidates are vying for three seats on Harrisonburg School Board, including three incumbents — Deb Fitzgerald, Kaylene Seigle and Nick Swayne — and one newcomer: Irvin Peckham. 

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