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Voting is underway in Arlington County, with housing issues unofficially on the ballot

Election Day is here, and thousands of residents are hitting the polls — manned by 426 volunteers — to cast their ballots in the 2022 mid-term election.

By 9 a.m., about 10% of Arlington voted in-person, according to the county elections office, in addition to the 13% of people who voted early and in-person and 7% who voted by mail.

“The polls have been steady so far this morning,” said Tania Griffin, spokeswoman for the Arlington Office of Voter Registration and Elections.

Turnout in a midterm is typically about half the turnout of a presidential election, Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer previously told ARLnow.

Just over 20,000 people voted early in this year’s general election, Griffin said. Combined with the more than 11,000 absentee ballots sent in, Virginia Public Access Project says Arlington’s early voting rate surpasses those for Northern Virginia and the state. (Nearly 5,000 have not returned the mail ballots they requested.)

Early voting rates in Arlington, the region and the state (via Virginia Public Access Project)

In 2018, the last midterm election, 21,147 ballots were cast early, per VPAP.

While early voting got off to a muted start to in September, and was “slightly slower” than last year’s election, local and statewide Democrats celebrated early voting numbers yesterday during a rally at the home of Matt de Ferranti, the Democrat Arlington County Board incumbent running for re-election.

“The trends are positive, particularly in the three parts of the state that have really competitive congressional districts. We see high numbers, and we really see good Democratic advantage in the early vote,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who came out for the rally. “We really like what we’re seeing.”

In the local U.S. House race, Arlington voters can choose among Democrat incumbent Rep. Don Beyer and his two challengers for the 8th District, Republican Karina Lipsman and independent Teddy Fikre.

Kaine said one top driver for races this year is the economy, which he characterized as a mixed bag.

“You have inflation but you have historic job growth. Inflation might make you worry if there’s a downturn coming, but then you see how strong job growth is — during Biden’s term, 10 million-plus jobs, manufacturing coming back, big job announcements with Amazon,” he said. “I think the evidence will be mixed.”

Among the countywide races, voters can choose between two School Board candidates — independent, Sun Gazette-endorsed James “Vell” Rives IV and Arlington County Democratic Committee-endorsed Bethany Sutton.

In Arlington, the most watched race this year is likely that for County Board, which has become a showdown on the topic of Missing Middle housing — the proposal to open up single-family zoning to smaller-scale multifamily housing.

De Ferranti said that could have driven the relatively higher early voting showing.

“The early vote we’re seeing is so stepped up that we’ll have to see what the total turnout is,” de Ferranti said. “This is greater turnout than 2018 so far, and I think some of that is the discussion we’re having on housing.”

His challengers for County Board — frequent independent candidate Audrey Clement and second-time candidate Adam Theo — say Missing Middle is a litmus test this election.

“After squeezing in last minute doorknocking yesterday, and all the responses I’m receiving this morning at precincts, I’m feeling very optimistic for the campaign and the success of the Missing Middle housing proposal,” Theo told ARLnow.

Some Twitter users also indicated their support for Theo derives from his enthusiastic support for allowing two- to eight-unit buildings across county districts zoned only for single-family homes.

Clement, meanwhile, is hoping to ride a wave of vocal Missing Middle opposition to victory after a decade of electoral futility.

“People are now telling me I’m an opportunist, seizing this issue, whereas I’ve been following it for a long time,” Clement told ARLnow yesterday (Monday). “My original interest in the issue was environmentally based. I was concerned about the impacts on schools, streets, congestion, run-off, pollution and tree canopy.”

Now, she says, she predicts another issue: displacement of elderly residents and Latinos.

“At a certain point, [seniors] will not be able to afford double-digit increases in assessments, and Latinos [are] sitting on some of the only remaining affordable properties in South Arlington, and that’s Ground Zero for development.”

Despite some Twitter critics saying Clement’s anti-Missing Middle stance appeals to the wealthiest Arlington residents, her campaign is not exactly flush with cash. She raised $27,136 as of Oct. 27, according to VPAP, compared to de Ferranti, who raised $186,854.

De Ferranti’s fundraising has also attracted scrutiny from Missing Middle opponents, who point out the donations from labor groups like electrical workers and carpenters, which may stand to benefit from a rise in residential construction activity.

(County projections and the experience of other cities both suggest that new Missing Middle dwellings in Arlington, should zoning changes come to pass, may only number in the low double digits each year.)

During ARLnow’s interview of Clement, a man walking a dog interrupted to accuse her of being “a Trumper.” Clement responded that, on the contrary, she’s an independent because she is an environmentalist who generally supports Democrat stances on national issues but, locally, has issues with how the County Board spends money.

Also on the ballot this year are six local bond issues totaling $510 million, which, if approved by voters, would fund a new Arlington Career Center campus, county building renovations, new infrastructure at the wastewater treatment plant, transportation upgrades, stormwater management and parks improvements.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close tonight at 7 p.m. Voters who requested their absentee mail ballots but did not mail them can put them in drop boxes around the county.

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