A week into early voting, local political groups seek to drum up interest

Signs outside Harrisonburg City Hall are used for early voting. (File photo)

By Logan Roddy, senior contributor

Local political parties’ get-out-the vote efforts are in full swing now that Virginia’s early voting period has been open for a week, although this year’s governor’s race didn’t draw the initial influx of votes that the presidential race did last year.  

Last Friday, 117 people showed up to city hall for the first day of early voting, which Harrisonburg Registrar Mark Finks said was a “decent turnout in comparison to localities of our size.”

“It’s definitely less [than last year], but it’s not a presidential year,” Finks said.

On the first day of early voting in 2020, 181 people showed up to cast ballots. 

The marquee race this year is Virginia’s governor’s race between Republican Glenn Youngkin, a hedge fund investor who positioned himself as a political outsider, and Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who served as governor from 2013-17. Other statewide races, including lieutenant governor and attorney general, also are on the Nov. 2 ballot. For Harrisonburg, the 26th state House of Delegates race is also on the ballot, but city council and Harrisonburg School Board races are in even years.

Finks also said the office is conducting the early voting process in city hall’s atrium instead of the main lobby to make the process as safe as possible. He said it’s also important to have a separate entrance for voting — and for the campaigns to set up tables outside —to reduce traffic in and out of the other parts of the building that include offices, such as that of the city treasurer.

“That definitely makes a difference, and just having our own space to operate within, as there are documents and machines in there and certain standards need to be met,” Finks said. “When we’re right in the middle of where everyone’s entering and exiting, it becomes a little difficult to do that.”

The General Assembly voted last year to allow anyone to vote 45 days prior to Election Day. 

Early in-person voting at city hall will be open until Oct. 30, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and also on two Saturdays — Oct 23 and 30. 

“It works basically the same way, at least for the voter, as it would on Election Day,” Finks said. “They just have to come in with either some form of identification or fill out the ID confirmation form when they arrive, they would be checked in, issued a ballot, and they can put it into the scanner just as they would on Election Day.”

With mail absentee voting, Harrisonburg voters still must fill out an application to have a ballot mailed to their house. But those voters no longer need an excuse to do so.

In the last week of October, the city will have drop-box locations for voters to return their ballots, although those locations haven’t yet been announced. 

Last year, 7,632 voters opted for the absentee option.

‘Motivate and engage the electorate’ 

Harrisonburg Democratic Committee Chairman Alleyn Harned and Republican Committee treasurer William Call both said their organizations’ primary efforts are aimed at getting out the vote through door-to-door canvassing.

“We’re talking to voters and reminding people about the downtown early voting over emails and also being sure that folks are aware that this year the Harrisonburg Electoral Board has added additional early vote drop boxes,” Harned said. “So we’re excited about the work that’s been done locally to allow safe access to the ballot.”

Harned said he hopes his party earns “votes with shared values of community and a range of policies.” 

“Because we’re listening to people, we’re talking to them about real issues, and we all lived through the violent insurrection that Republicans seeking to undermine our democracy facilitated just a few months ago,” Harned said. “So we’re open to democratic process rather than what we’ve seen from the Republican Party, which is more effort to confuse or to undermine the election and the election processes.” 

Harned said it’s important to motivate voters.  

“Those that choose to show up will have a voice this year, and that’s how it is every year with elections,” Harned said.

He said he wanted to be very clear that “in Virginia we have systems to ensure that people can participate, and that voting is safe, efficient and accurate.”

“And I think we should all as Virginians be proud of the work that we all do to run successful elections,” Harned said.

‘Go vote early’ 

William Call, the local GOP committee’s treasurer, said that from a Republican standpoint, dissatisfaction Trump voters expressed last year should be rechanneled into voting early, which is what the party’s voter outreach efforts are focused on.

“If you didn’t like the way 2020 went, then go vote early,” Call said.

He said casting a ballot before Nov. 2 allows for people to address any potential unforeseen voter registration issues.

“So basically if nothing else, you get to vote early, and you also get the opportunity that if there’s a hiccup somewhere in your registration process you get to address that before the final Election Day,” Call said.

Republicans also are hosting a rally at 1 p.m. Friday outside the Rockingham County Administration Center featuring Youngkin as a way to encourage people to vote early.

Call also said he’s optimistic the Republican “door knocking” efforts will yield a good turnout and that a large part of knocking on people’s doors is just to remind people of their right to vote every year.

“These days I’m not sure very many people are actually paying attention, which is where the door knocking comes in to get people out of their chair and dust the cobwebs out of their head,” he said. “If you want to vote, you need to register and if you have to register, then vote early.” 

And while he thinks that off-year elections generally have lower participation rate, he said he’s surprised at the difference between the number of signs he’s seen around town for the two candidates for governor.

“I don’t see a lot of McAuliffe signs, not that I travel every street in the city, but it’s kind of a head scratcher,” Call said. “In my travels around town, I see more [of] Youngkin’s.” 

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