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The Score: Special Edition for Election 2019

Albemarle County Office of Voter Registration It’s election day in Virginia and voter turnout seems to have exceeded expectations around the state.

I spoke to the general registrars in the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County about mid-day voter turnout.

Jake Washburne is the registrar in Albemarle. He said turnout today was on track to surpass the turnout in 2015, the last time the House of Delegates and State Senate were up for election.

Turnout at one o’clock was 27 percent; in 2015 the one o’clock turnout was … 17 percent, so it’s significantly above that one o’clock turnout four years ago. The total turnout four years ago at the end of the day was 31 percent.

In the City of Charlottesville, registrar Melissa Morton told a similar story when I spoke to her just after 3 o’clock p.m.:

It is very high right now. We’re at approximately 21 percent of active registered voters. We’re just about to exceed that voter turnout amount [from four years ago]. Back then, in 2015, it was at 23.6 percent, so by four o’clock we will probably have exceeded that amount.

She attributed the higher turnout, in part, to sunny skies and warm temperatures.

We didn’t expect to see so many people out. I guess the good weather has brought people out to cast their ballots.

There were scattered reports around the Virginia of polling places running out of paper ballots, including one precinct in the City of Richmond [1] that ran short as early as eight o’clock in the morning. I asked Charlottesville Electoral Board member Jim Nix how they determine how many ballots to print in advance of an election.

We do it in three stages. Initially, we looked at the last couple of similar elections, and then make an adjustment based on assessing growth in population. That’s our first estimate.

Then we start watching absentee voting, which started 45 days before the election. We know what the trend line is on absentee — you know, what date 30 percent of the absentee voters are in, 40 percent, and so forth.

So we project what the absentee voting was going to be (about 1000 absentee ballots) and most elections like this about 10 percent of those who vote, vote absentee, so that predicted that total turnout would be 10,000 of which 9000 would be on election day. So we distributed 10,000 ballots to the precincts and have 1,000 in reserve.

But it turns out that in this election that percentage of voters who voted absentee was smaller — I haven’t calculated it yet, but the 10 percent figure didn’t give us quite the balance on election day that we needed, but, of course, we can print 1,000 in 45 minutes and so we just finished printing off a batch of 500 and we’ll do another 500 in an hour if we think we might need them.

The formula is somewhat different in Albemarle County, as Jake Washburne explained to me:

We sort of roughly go with about 20 percent or maybe even a little bit more than the expected turnout because running out of ballots is something that nobody wants to do. And so even though more ballots cost a little more money, at the end of the day, it seems like a pretty good insurance policy.

If trends around the state are similar to those in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia can expect near record turnouts for an off-off-year election – if not something worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records [2].

Listen to the next full episode of The Score this coming weekend for reports and analysis on the election results.

Update: Look for interviews with Delegate-elect Sally Hudson (D-HD57), State Senator Creigh Deeds (D-SD25) and his opponent, Elliott Harding (Ind.), and Charlottesville Councilor-elect Michael Payne (D), all from election night.