(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) Arlington voters seem ready to flood the polls in record numbers on Nov. 6, with early turnout numbers presaging a “blue wave” that could — potentially — wipe independent County Board member John Vihstadt out of office.
New figures compiled by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project show that the county has seen a 114 percent increase in the number of absentee ballots cast through Wednesday (Oct. 17), compared to the same time last year. The county’s surge to 4,236 ballots cast, compared to 1,976 a year ago, mirrors similarly boosts around the state.
While absentee voting can be an imperfect measure of Election Day enthusiasm, the numbers in Arlington are strong enough to convince some observers that the county could see huge turnout levels for the midterm elections. Former county treasurer Frank O’Leary, a close watcher of Arlington elections, projects that the current absentee numbers are robust enough that the county sees as many as 95,000 votes cast next month.
That figure would be higher than what the county might expect in a midterm election with a Senate seat on the ballot, without a heavily Democratic electorate itching to send a message to President Donald Trump. It would be close to 10,000 votes more than the 85,300 people who turned out for last year’s closely watched governor’s race that swept Democrat Ralph Northam into office with a hefty victory.
Given Arlington’s overwhelmingly blue political complexion, O’Leary expects “at greater levels of turnout, the blue tide will become increasingly the determining factor” in down-ballot races. That includes Vihstadt’s contest with Democratic challenger Matt de Ferranti, who is hoping to return the Board to unified Democratic control after Vihstadt won a pair of upset victories back in 2014.
O’Leary notes that turnout in the county was severely depressed six years ago, when Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) very nearly lost to Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrats took a beating nationwide, and he doesn’t expect those conditions to repeat themselves this time around.
The county lacks a competitive race in the 8th Congressional District, but with U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine up for re-election against Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, a politician disavowed by members of both parties for his frequent embrace of white nationalists and the Confederate flag, O’Leary expects that “an expanded electorate coupled with an odious opponent will net Tim Kaine more than 80 percent of the Arlington vote.”
While O’Leary notes that Vihstadt benefits from the “advantage of incumbency, name recognition, and the support of a number of prominent Democratic elected office holders and the benefit of a well-organized, highly-focused campaign,” he also expects that some of the galvanizing issues Vihstadt seized on in his 2014 bid — the Columbia Pike streetcar and “million-dollar bus stops” among them — aren’t as relevant this time around. It doesn’t help, either, that Vihstadt will have to contend with “a re-vamped (and equally determined) Democratic Party structure” and “the curse of ‘The Donald.'”
“In the event that total turnout exceeds 88,000 (with 75,000 or more votes cast in the County Board race), [Matt] de Ferranti will defeat John Vihstadt and win election to the County Board,” O’Leary predicted.
“Mr. Vihstadt starts with a proven base of 35,000, de Ferranti, perhaps 27,500. (That totals 62,500.) Thereafter, at greater levels of turnout, the blue tide will become increasingly the determining factor,” he explained.
Of course, Vihstadt has out-fundraised de Ferranti so far, and some Democrats remain concerned that the challenger has done little to separate himself from his opponent. For his part, the independent remains confident that he can once again shock the county’s political establishment this year.
“I was the underdog in 2014 and may be again this year,” Vihstadt told ARLnow. “I wasn’t supposed to win in the first place, but Arlingtonians proved that they are sophisticated voters. As I knock on doors across Arlington, people, regardless of partisanship at the federal and state levels, say they value the balance and independence that I bring to local government. I’m confident that my purple tugboat will survive the blue wave.”
Flickr pool photo via wolfkann
Virginia’s voter registration deadline is now just a few days away.
Any Virginia resident hoping to cast a ballot on Nov. 6 has until Monday (Oct. 15) to ensure they’re properly registered.
The state offers online voter registration in most cases, though anyone can also register by mail or at Arlington’s elections office, located at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Suite 320. Registration applications are available there, and at most county libraries, schools, post offices, DMV locations, rec centers and more.
Anyone looking to vote absentee can register to do so through Oct. 30. Mailed-in ballots must be received by Nov. 6, or people can vote early at the county offices, a process known as “in-person absentee voting.”
The county headquarters at 2100 Clarendon Blvd is now open most days for anyone hoping to vote early, with full details available on the county’s website.
Sample ballots are also available online. Beyond high-profile races for Congress, including the U.S. Senate race and the contest for the 8th District, the ballot will include one County Board seat, one School Board seat, two constitutional questions and four bond referenda.
Several absentee voting measures have been sent to the House of Delegates’ Privileges and Elections study committee for review in 2019, meaning the legislation is effectively dead for 2018.
The bills, introduced by state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D), included a measure which would have allowed for senior citizens to vote with an absentee ballot up to and including the day of an election. Another, SB602, would have allowed for “no-excuse” absentee ballot voting beginning 21 days prior to an election, meaning that anyone could have voted with an absentee ballot without needing a qualifying reason for not being able to wait in line at the polls.
“We want to make it easier for people to vote and participate in democracy rather than harder,” said Ebbin. “In Arlington in particular, there are a lot of busy people who work a lot of unpredictable hours. Right now, working late is not a valid excuse for absentee voting.”
“It should be easier to vote, and we don’t want anyone to be disenfranchised.”
Though the bills will not have a chance to be passed until after the 2018 midterm elections, Ebbin told ARLnow.com that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing to wait, saying it “can be a good thing” as the bill will “get a more full hearing and more education and more consideration and more chance to educate legislators on these issues.”