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Arlington has a sleepy start to early voting compared to elsewhere in Virginia

A drop-off voting box in Courthouse in mid-May of 2023 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m) Early voting is underway and the election is five weeks out but, compared to other parts of Virginia, politicking in Arlington is still a little sleepy.

This year is an off-year, meaning there are no federal offices on the ballot to drum up turnout. Some call this year, like 2019 before it, an “off-off-year” because the ballot lacks statewide offices, such as governor, too.

“We’ve been pretty quiet compared to other parts of Virginia,” Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer says.

About 1% of Arlington’s 154,320 registered voters have cast their ballots already and the only early-voting location currently open, Courthouse Plaza, is averaging 101 voters a day, according to the county’s election dashboard.

Turnout is on par with the rest of Northern Virginia, which is seeing less early voting activity than more competitive jurisdictions and Republican strongholds to the south and west, according to data collected by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The local Democratic party chalks this up to the high number of uncompetitive races. Arlington’s GOP committee, meanwhile, says Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s active campaigning for Republicans seeking local office and “vote early” message might be getting more Republicans out to the polls.

For state Senate, for instance, some 1,330 have voted in the 40th District and some 1,860 in the 39th District, currently held by Sens. Barbara Favola and Adam Ebbin, respectively, who are seeking re-election, compared to the 4,500-5,500 votes cast in some competitive or heavily Republican jurisdictions.

Early voting levels by State Senate jurisdiction in Virginia (via Virginia Public Access Project)

At this point in the race, slower Democrat turnout can be expected because more Democrats vote by mail, which comes with a lag time, a spokesman for Arlington County Democratic Committee. Data show 640 of the 13,119 mailed ballots have been returned in Arlington.

He predicts early voting will pick up once more locations open and hours are extended.

Another factor is the seven uncontested races: there are no challengers for Clerk of the Court Paul Ferguson, Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Treasurer Carla de la Pava, Acting Sheriff Jose Quiroz, Commissioner of Revenue candidate Kim Klingler, District 1 Del. Patrick Hope and District 2 candidate Adele McClure.

There are two Republican challengers for Favola and Ebbin — David Henshaw and Sophia Moshasha, respectively — and District 3 Del. Alfonso Lopez faces a challenger in independent Major Mike Webb, who seeks office frequently.

“Almost every race in places like Arlington and Fairfax are uncontested or it’s very obvious the Democratic candidate has a huge advantage,” a local Democratic spokesman told ARLnow. “The reality is that the races in Arlington are all going to be relatively non-competitive compared to others in Virginia.”

Volunteers with Arlington Democrats have been spending their weekends knocking doors in jurisdictions where election outcomes determine whether Democrats or Republicans control the state House of Delegates and Senate, he said. National media note the stakes are high in Virginia this year, particularly for issues such as abortion.

Although it is tougher to beat a Democrat in Arlington, Matthew Hurtt, who chairs the Arlington County Republican Committee, says Henshaw and Moshasha have received “significant support” from the state GOP for their campaign literature, websites and yard signs.

“Gov. Youngkin is committed to being competitive everywhere,” he said, noting the governor’s early voting rallying cry this election. “The Spirit of Virginia came in for every candidate, including those up here who are long-shot candidates.”

It will take that investment until the next off-off year, in 2027, for Republicans to make inroads in Northern Virginia, he said.

This campaign cycle, the local GOP has channeled its focus into the Arlington County Board race, putting forward candidate Juan Carlos Fierro. Hurtt reports greater interest from the estimated 15,000 Republicans  in Arlington, including more website traffic and about 150 people who shared their contact information during Clarendon Day.

“A chunk were genuinely interested in being more involved in what we’re trying to accomplish,” he said, adding that he heard several comments such as “We didn’t know there were Republicans here” and “How can we get more involved?”

He sees taxes and County Board governance as the issues most likely motivate people to vote Republican, observing complaints he has heard about vehicle taxes and the unanimity with which the all-Democratic Board operates.

Fierro echoed this second criticism in a civic association meeting Monday, when neighbors heard from a land-use attorney with concerns about a church’s plans to turn its property into affordable senior housing above childcare and a new sanctuary.

Fierro told participants these projects will sail through unless residents change who they elect to the Board.

“I think we are going to have to continue to have these problems if the wrong people are elected,” he said. “You are always going to have a five-zero vote.”

He and County Board candidates independent Audrey Clement and Democrat Susan Cunningham had sharp words at the Planning Commission meeting, also Monday.

Commissioners approved a request to advertise hearings on the new Plan Langston Blvd draft, guiding redevelopment along Route 29, amid criticism that it was published on short notice, with slew of changes and no guide to them.

“Notwithstanding the merits of some of the changes, it is impossible for the Average Joe to understand what are the changes that have been incorporated in the document,” Fierro said.

Cunningham and Clement asked the commission to postpone a vote to allow more time to review the document, though a motion to this effect failed.

Cunningham told commissioners they could “strengthen transparency and community trust” by asking the county to review “recent timelines for making materials public and commit to clear and consistent guidelines for these timelines in the future,” per comments she emailed to the commission and shared with ARLnow.

Democrat Maureen Coffey listened in but did not comment.

During the civic association meeting later that night, Clement linked herself with Fierro, saying the duo have been more critical of the county. She criticized Coffey and Cunningham for not speaking live in either meeting.

“But both Juan and I spoke, so I would like to say, first, a shout-out to Juan Carlos, and also, to say we are both shooting from the hip. We are here tonight. The others are not,” she said.

Voters still have a chance to get to know their candidates. The League of Women Voters of Arlington and Alexandria City is hosting meet-and-greets this Sunday and on Sunday, Oct. 22 from 2:30-5 p.m. at the Walter Reed Community Center at 2909 16th Street S.

On Monday, Oct. 16, at 6:30 p.m., the Young Republicans will hold an event with Fierro and Hung Cao, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in 2024, at Bronson Bierhall in Ballston.

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