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Almost one in five Virginians voted early; rate tracks in Roanoke and New River valleys

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Early voting is a popular choice among Virginians of all political stripes, according to turnout data provided by officials on Monday, ahead of Election Day.

Virginia registered over 5.9 million voters as of Oct. 1, according to state elections data. More than 1.1 million voters, or about 19% of the registered total, cast their ballots early as of Monday, mostly in-person at their local elections office and through mail, data said.

In the Roanoke and New River Valleys, Salem saw a 25% turnout during early voting.

In Roanoke County, more than 20% of the 71,901 registered voters cast early ballots, according to numbers provided Monday by Registrar Anna Cloeter.

“That’s changed significantly,” Cloeter said. “You used to need an excuse to vote by mail, and now you don’t.”

A state law effective as of 2020 relaxed the requirements for early voting in Virginia, enabling anyone to perform their civic duty early, rather than waiting until Election Day.

Cloeter said the early voting process this year went smoothly overall, with no credible allegations of stolen or falsified mail ballots, despite some baseless rumors she saw spread on social media. Those rumors, false as they were, might have at least worked to encourage the strong early participation, she said.

In the city of Roanoke, about 17% of the 64,374 registered residents opted for early voting, according to Registrar Andrew Cochran.

“This is the third election we’ve had no-excuse early voting in Virginia,” Cochran said during a phone call. “For a gubernatorial election, it’s been a very good turnout so far.”

Cochran said the only bump worth noting is that some people sent their mail-in ballots back to him without having a witness signature, as required by law. Boards of elections make every effort to contact voters when there are problems with their mail-in ballots, he said, but some Roanoke voters had yet to reply back.

“Everybody has a voice. Please exercise it,” Cochran said. “Get out and vote, if you haven’t already.”

More than 21% of the 25,800 registered voters in Botetourt County did so early, according to Registrar Traci Spradlin Clark.

“We’ve had a lot, all age groups have taken advantage of it,” Clark said during a phone call. “We have seen quite a few of our older voters coming in so they don’t have to take a chance standing in line at the precincts.”

Early voting also gives the registrars a better idea what they might see on Election Day, Clark added. And since more people voted early, lines could be shorter on Election Day, facilitating a faster experience all-around.

“It’s been a good thing,” Clark said.

In Floyd County, 1,888 out of about 11,700 registered voters cast their ballots early in-person at the county elections office during the month of October. That was a few more voters at times than the office floorplan is capable of comfortably holding, said Amy Ingram, general registrar.

“I wish I had a bigger office,” Ingram said. “It’s too small to handle so many early voters.”

Previously, Floyd County served no more than 1,000 early voters during any given election, she said. The 2020 presidential election saw more than 4,000 Floyd residents vote early.

“We’re having some growing pains,” Ingram said. “We’ll definitely have to reconfigure before the next presidential election.”

Elsewhere in the Roanoke and New River valleys, early voter turnout was in the range of 16-20%.

Salem had the 25% early turnout among its 17,598 registered voters, according to Dana Oliver, the city’s director of elections.

Montgomery County, the largest locality in the New River Valley, had 18% of its almost 61,000 voters participate early, according to data provided Monday by Connie Viar, director of elections.

More than 650 Montgomery County voters were sent ballots but did not yet return them as of Monday, according to data. Roanoke city and county were both awaiting about 800 absentee ballots, officials said, noting there is still time for those to arrive through the mail and be counted.

People who might still have a mail-in absentee ballot sitting unsent at home can drop theirs off at polling places on Tuesday, but it might be too late to mail them back in before votes are counted, officials said.

The role of local elections offices is to facilitate a fair vote, and ensure anybody who wants to participate gets their say in this most revered of democratic processes. No matter the county or city, politics are secondary to the charge of assuring fair elections and encouraging turnout, said Kathryn Webb, Pulaski County’s director of elections.

“If there are any questions or unknowns about where to go vote, please give us a call,” Webb said. “We’re here to help.”

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