From record early voting turnout to the volume of volunteer requests to the number of first-time voters, the word “first” characterizes many aspects of the 2020 election in Arlington.
But for 83-year-old poll volunteer Bill Thatcher, 2020 is his last year helping people exercise their “supreme privilege of voting.”
For the past 45 years, the Arlington resident has volunteered as a precinct chief at the polls, moving wherever he is needed. This year, he is an assistant chief of early voting at the Langston-Brown Community Center along Lee Highway.
What started a half-century ago as a minor way to give back to the community has become a mission to safeguard a right people have sacrificed everything to secure. Thatcher’s goal is to clear any impediments blocking people from voting and make everyone who walks into his precinct feel comfortable.
“I reflected just last evening, there are people who have shed blood and died for this freedom to vote, to keep freedom free,” he said.
After the election, Thatcher will have more time to focus on his day job as a real-estate broker, which he has had for 50 years. He just renewed his license, and plans to work so long as he is in good health.
2020 is a memorable election year to end on, with more than 50% of active voters having already cast early ballots. It thrills Thatcher, who lives in a neighborhood near the East Falls Church Metro station, to process the votes of many first-timers, several of whom are seniors.
Although lines can stretch up to two blocks, they move at a brisk pace, he said. He thinks the use of early voting to keep the Election Day crowd size down should stay when the pandemic fades because people seem to enjoy early voting. One pandemic precaution — curbside ballot pickup — did not prove popular, however. People want to see their ballots processed, he said.
“A few ask for receipts,” he said.
And it breaks his heart whenever someone has to be turned away. One year, a friend arrived at Thatcher’s precinct about 30 seconds after 7 p.m. and the polls had closed. By law, he could not let his friend in.
“It grieved me,” he said. “He made every attempt to come, he wanted to vote, he was ready, willing and able, registered and everything, but just because of time constraints, was not able to vote.”
Empathy is an important trait for future poll workers, says Thatcher.
“Make sure that you give them the assurance that their vote is important and deserves to be counted,” he said.
He started working at the polls in 1975, on the suggestion of his neighbor and distant relative, who had decided to step back from volunteering. Similar to his relative, Thatcher desires to pass his spot on.
“I just feel I’ve done it for this length of time and I should let someone else enter in now and do some volunteer work,” he said.
If this year is any indication, there are many who are eager to take up the baton. Thatcher said more than 2,000 people responded to this year’s call for poll volunteers.
“It’s fantastic we’ve had a huge influx in new workers this election who are stepping up to cover for those who cannot work due to health risks,” said Eric Olsen, Arlington’s Deputy Director of Elections, in an email.
Olsen said he hopes some of the new volunteers will stay on and have a rewarding experience working the polls for years to come, in the way that Thatcher has.
“People like Bill are the lifeblood of making elections function properly,” Olsen said. “They happen with preparation, trust, and most importantly — people.”
Arlington has just crossed the 50% mark.
New figures released today by the Arlington County elections office show that 85,776 votes have already been cast in the upcoming Nov. 3 election. That represents more than 50% of active voters in the county, and more than twice the early and mail-in votes of the entire record-setting 2016 presidential election.
It’s also up from the 30% early voting and mail-in ballot turnout as of Oct. 16, the day before four additional early voting locations opened.
Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s Director of Elections, said her office is encouraging Arlington residents to continue voting early.
“The Office of Voter Registration & Elections encourages voters to take advantage of one of our five early voting sites before Saturday, October 31,” Reinemeyer told ARLnow today. “This is the last day to vote early. Waits rarely exceed more than 10 minutes. The full list of locations and hours can be found online.”
“Voters planning to vote on Election Day must do so at their assigned polling place,” she added. “Voters should confirm their assigned polling place online at vote.elections.virginia.gov, email [email protected], or call 703-228-3456.”
Expensive Bike Parking Spaces — “Metro has spent nearly $20,000 per bike parking space at three bike facilities, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has found. Metro has spent over $5.9 million on the construction of 304 bike spaces at the three facilities… located at the College Park, East Falls Church and Vienna Metro stations.” [NBC 4]
Short Waits to Vote in Arlington — “Eager to avoid waiting in line while casting an early ballot? Try to avoid peak times and you should be fine. ‘Wait times are minimal,’ said county elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer, with the exception of early morning and occasionally at lunchtime. Other than that, voters have been experiencing waits of 10 minutes or less, and ‘most people are just walking straight in to vote,’ she said.” [InsideNova]
Voters Flocking to Ballot Drop-Boxes — “Arlington has set up nine dropboxes for the secure collection of ballots at points across the county, representing another option for those who neither want to vote in person nor wish to trust the U.S. Postal Service with their ballots. That network has proved ‘very popular,’ Arlington elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” [InsideNova]
Biden Leads in New Va. Poll — “Former vice president Joe Biden leads President Trump 52 percent to 41 percent among likely Virginia voters, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll — roughly double Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory in the state in 2016. Biden’s advantage cuts across most demographic groups, with regional strength in the Northern Virginia suburbs and the Richmond area.” [Washington Post]
Local Nonprofit Featured on GMA — “Lights, camera, action! We had a wonderful experience filming with the Good Morning America team last week. The piece aired early this morning… We were thrilled by an unexpected and very generous gift from Amazon.com to help our residents weather the pandemic.” [Facebook, Vimeo]
Police Investigation Bill Signed into Law — “Gov. Northam has signed my bill (HB 5072) to empower the Atty Gen to conduct ‘pattern or practice’ investigations of police forces that appear to be violating constitutional rights, such as patterns of excessive force, illegal searches, or racially biased policing.” [@Lopez4VA/Twitter]
Pupatella Now Available for Delivery — “UBER EATS Now available at all locations – DC (Dupont Circle), both the Original Wilson Blvd spot and South Arlington, as well as Richmond too! We’ve partnered up with UberEats to bring you some of the best pizza around.” [@PupatellaPizza/Twitter]
Local Beer Biz Figure Dies — “Ben Tolkan, a popular figure in DC’s beer industry who was the subject of a Washingtonian feature story, died late Saturday night after a five-and-a half-year battle with cancer. He was 37.” Tolkan is survived by his wife, Abby, an Arlington County public school teacher. [Washingtonian]
The Trump campaign famously has had boat parades. Over the weekend the Biden campaign organized a car parade in Arlington.
On Saturday, the first day of expanded early voting, Biden’s Virginia campaign held a Latino Car Parade “to encourage Latinos to vote early and highlight the importance of the Latino vote in Virginia.”
Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), Arlington School Board member Tannia Talento, and School Board candidate Cristina Diaz-Torres participated in the morning event, which culminated in early voting at the Walter Reed Community Center near Columbia Pike.
“The Biden-Harris Administration will get this pandemic under control, protect Latinos’ access to health care, and reform our broken immigration system,” the campaign said in a press release about the event.
Those participating in the car parade and subsequent rally were required by the campaign to adhere to COVID-19 safety precautions, “including wearing masks, temperature checks, and practicing social distancing.”
President Trump’s reelection campaign, which is based in Rosslyn, does not currently have any publicly-listed events planned in Arlington.
The car parade was not the only local Democratic political happening of note this weekend. Elected officials, including Sen. Mark Warner and Rep. Don Beyer, visited several early voting locations on Saturday.
I am out at the polls today with @parisa4justice @MarkWarner @Lopez4VA @Monique4APS @RepDonBeyer & @MeganBeyerVA It is perfect voting weather! Make a plan to vote! pic.twitter.com/GI1Ueb9zFf
— Barbara Favola (@BarbaraFavola) October 17, 2020
Four new early voting locations will open in Arlington this weekend.
The Aurora Hills, Langston-Brown, Madison and Walter Reed community centers will all be open for early voting, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. The voting hours at the community centers are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Early voting at the four new locations is in addition to the already-open Courthouse Plaza location, in the former Wells Fargo bank branch at 2200 Clarendon Blvd.
Arlington has seen record levels of mail-in and in-person early ballots. More than 30% of active voters have already cast ballots, Arlington election officials said today, up from 24% last week.
“We’ve never seen volumes this high,” Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s Director of Elections, told ARLnow last week.
More than 30% of Arlington voters have already cast a ballot! 👀👀 Want to vote before Nov. 3? Here's how:
✅Request a vote-by-mail ballot by Oct. 23: https://t.co/UkEWKYrFaY
📮 Return your ballot: https://t.co/wqqW8h8vB0
🗳️ Vote early in person: https://t.co/fdMm5dC0dx
— Arlington Elections (@ArlingtonVotes) October 16, 2020
Tomorrow’s kick-off of expanded early voting will draw a number of lawmakers to the area for “get out the early vote” campaign stops.
Sen. Mark Warner, along with fellow Virginia Democrats Rep. Don Beyer and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, will be making stops at community and government centers in Arlington and Fairfax County. Here in Arlington, they trio plan to visit the Aurora Hills Community Center (735 18th Street S.) at 11:30 a.m. and the Langston-Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street) at 12:15 p.m.
Nonprofit Won’t Return to Arlington Office — “The American Diabetes Association isn’t planning a return to the Crystal City headquarters it left Alexandria for a few years back, not even when a Covid-19 vaccine is readily available and it’s safe to go back to the office again. The nonprofit is seeking to sublease all of its space at 2451 Crystal Drive, about 80,000 square feet.” [Washington Business Journal]
Voter Registration Open Until Midnight — “A judge on Wednesday granted a request from civil rights groups to extend Virginia’s voter registration deadline until Oct. 15 after the state’s online system crashed on the final day of the registration period, according to Virginia’s attorney general.” [Axios, Press Release]
Oh, Deer — The regional deer population has been increasing during the pandemic, which is making driving more dangerous this fall as deer potentially become “too comfortable” around roads. [NBC 4]
Park Rangers Patrolling for Rogue Mountain Bikers — “Park rangers have been patrolling the parks to keep the mountain bike riders off the natural trails. ‘We put up barriers in places where we can. We put up signs … in key areas we put up some things to block their access … but we’re focusing on education,’ Abugattas said.” [WTOP]
Voting Lines Should Move Quickly — “Arlington election officials are advising the public not to be dissuaded if lines for voting, either in advance of Nov. 3 or on Election Day itself, seem long. ‘You can expect to see a pretty long line, but that’s because of the spacing we’re trying to put between voters,’ county director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said.” Also, the Reinemeyer said the county is already fully staffed with volunteer poll workers. [InsideNova, InsideNova]
Certification for Sheriff’s Office — “The Arlington County Sheriff’s Office has met all applicable Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards following an audit that was conducted earlier this year.” [Arlington County]
Pentagon City Planning Meeting Tonight — “Participate in a virtual workshop about Arlington’s community planning process for Pentagon City! The first workshop will include small group discussions about the community’s vision for the Pentagon City Area.” [Arlington County]
Changes Proposed to Rosslyn Development — “Arlington County Board members on [October] 17 will be asked to ratify relatively minor changes to the approved-in-2019 redevelopment of the Rosslyn Holiday Inn site. The request, if approved, would add residential units and delete hotel units from the project, while keeping the overall density of the project unchanged.” [InsideNova]
Today: Online Discussion With ACPD — “On Wednesday, October 14, 12-1 p.m., CPRO will be joined by members of the Arlington Police Department and County staff for our next Connecting & Collaborating Session: ‘Working Together to Keep Arlington Safe.’ We’ll be discussing safety concerns across the County and the effect on Columbia Pike.” [ARLnow Events, Zoom]
PMI to Settle JBG Parking Lawsuit — “Parking Management Inc. has agreed to pay at least $1.45 million and to take other measures to settle a lawsuit filed against it by an affiliate of JBG Smith Properties in response to the District-based parking operator’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy efforts.” [Washington Business Journal]
Suit Seeks to Extend Va. Voter Registration — “An accidentally severed fiber-optic cable in Virginia effectively shut down most of the state’s online voter registration on its last day Tuesday, prompting voter advocates to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking an extension of the deadline that they argue thousands of voters missed because of the disruption.” [Washington Post]
Northam Targeted By Militia Members — “The group of men accused of conspiring to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as part an alleged terrorist plot also targeted Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, the Detroit News reported Tuesday morning. An FBI special agent testified during a hearing in federal court that the three defendants had discussed ‘taking out’ a sitting governor, specifically mentioning Whitmer and Northam.” [Virginia Mercury, Press Release]
Nearby: Video of Shooting Released — “Detectives have released video footage related to a Sunday shooting in Bailey’s Crossroads as they continue to investigate. Officers responded to the Build America Plaza in the 3800 block of South George Mason Drive around 1:19 a.m. Sunday after several reports of gunshots. Not long afterward, Arlington County Police located a man with a gunshot wound.” [Patch, WTOP]
The upcoming election is setting up to be one for the record books in Arlington.
We’re around the halfway point between the start of early voting in September and Election Day on Nov. 3. Yet as of last night, 39,202 mail-in and early ballots had already been cast in Arlington, according to election officials.
That already exceeds the 37,869 mail-in and early ballots during the entire 2016 presidential general election.
“We’ve never seen volumes this high,” Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s Director of Elections, told ARLnow this morning. The ballots cast so far represent about 24% of active voters, she noted.
“In 2016, we received a total of 10,922 Mail Ballots and 26,947 voted early,” Reinemeyer said. “As of last night, we have received 20,852 Mail Ballots and 18,350 have voted early.”
The total number of votes cast in Arlington in the 2016 presidential general election was 121,339, a record that seems likely to fall this year given interest in the race and population growth in the county.
Arlington opened a new early voting location this year, in the former Wells Fargo bank (2200 Clarendon Blvd) near county government headquarters in Courthouse, in order to accommodate social distancing and long outdoor lines — which came to fruition on the first day of early voting. Four community centers will also open for early voting next Saturday, Oct. 17.
We've had consistent lines in Virginia. Good that they are even even longer today. Fortunately, we're good at this. I am in Arlington, next to Fairfax. Much smaller county. We have lines too but they move quickly. One early voting location open now, more to come. Voted last week. pic.twitter.com/W7QxKg3Ckc
— Just Breathe (@estate_nova) September 30, 2020
Yesterday the county also unveiled a secure, 24-hour ballot drop-off box in Courthouse, for those who might be concerned about their ballots being lost or delayed in the mail.
24-hour secure ballot drop boxes have arrived in Arlington! The first is now up in Courthouse Plaza. The rest will be ready to go by tomorrow. See the full list of locations: https://t.co/Ck1Bk0tAP8
— Arlington Elections (@ArlingtonVotes) October 8, 2020
Reinemeyer said any voter who is not already registered should do so soon. Voter registration in Virginia for any given race closes 21 days before the election — in other words, this coming Tuesday for the 2020 general election.
“The most common question we’re getting is from voters who can’t get a DMV appointment,” Reinemeyer said. “You don’t need ID to register. They can drop their application in the mail or our drop box or stop by in person. We’re open Monday.”
Voters who don’t want to show up to the polls in person, for fear of COVID-19 or otherwise, can request mail-in ballots through Oct. 23.
Crystal City Water Park to Get Big Upgrade — “JBG Smith Properties is pitching a major makeover for a small park at the heart of its Crystal City holdings, envisioning some new retail and even a bar atop a water feature. The developer filed plans with Arlington County earlier this month requesting an additional 6,100 square feet of density for the 1.6-acre park, located across the street from JBG Smith’s massive ‘Central District’ project at 1770 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]
Vote By Mail Facts — “The first round of vote-by-mail ballots have been sent to people who requested them, but it’s not too late to request yours. Ballot applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. To help you understand how voting by mail works — and feel confident in submitting your ballot — we’ve broken down the facts you need to know.” [Arlington County]
Deer Rescued from Country Club Fence — “On Tuesday night, a curious fawn tried to get through a metal fence in the Washington Golf and Country Club. Unfortunately her adventurous plan backfired, and the fawn ended up stuck and stranded. The country club called animal control, which is under the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and that’s when Officer Shannon Rose sprung to action.” [Washingtonian]
Weekday Afternoon Robbery in Ballston — “At approximately 4:21 p.m. on September 23, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business, approached the front counter, and passed the employee a note demanding money and threatening them if they didn’t comply. The victim complied, and the suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash, then fled on foot prior to police arrival.” [Arlington County]
National Landing Food Program Extended — “Thanks to generous support from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Amazon, JBG SMITH, Equity Residential and individual Arlington residents, the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) announced today that its Farm-to-Families food assistance program will be extended through the fall.” [Press Release]
Addiction Recovery Org Rebrands — “The name will change but the mission will remain the same – working to help those struggling with addiction turn their lives around. Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic announced Sept. 16 that it would change its name to National Capital Treatment and Recovery, following its split last year from the national Phoenix House organization.” [InsideNova]
Arlington residents were lined up down the block in Courthouse this morning, on the first day of early voting in Virginia.
The county’s elections office said on Twitter that 200 people cast ballots in the first hour this morning, after voting opened at 8 a.m.
Any registered voter who wants to vote early can do so through Oct. 31, at designated early voting locations. Currently, voting is taking place at the former Wells Fargo bank (2200 Clarendon Blvd) near county government headquarters in Courthouse. Four community centers will also open for early voting on Saturday, Oct. 17.
Voters who don’t want to show up to the polls in person, for fear of COVID-19 or otherwise, can request mail-in ballots through Oct. 23. The first of the ballots are being sent out today. As of early August, about 17,000 Arlingtonians — 10% of active voters — had requested mail-in ballots, according to the elections office.
More information on how to vote in the upcoming general election is available on Arlington County’s 2020 Voter Guide website.
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3
More views of the line via social media:
— Marbygirl (@marbygirl) September 18, 2020
92 voters in queue before polls open for early voting at 8am in Arlington Virginia. pic.twitter.com/len5SnoFEY
— Michael Beer (@mbeerusa) September 18, 2020
Out in Arlington, Virginia to cover the start of in-person early voting in the US. Virginia is one of 4 states that starts in-person voting today. Line winds around the courtyard at this voting site, probably 45 people long pic.twitter.com/4XQ3vmNeu4
— Anar Virji (@anarvirji) September 18, 2020
Arlington Again Named Top Digital County — “Arlington today was named the No. 1 Digital County in the U.S. by the Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2020 awards. This marks the fourth time Arlington has received the top spot for its 150,000-249,999 population category.” [Arlington County]
County Swamped With Would-Be Poll Workers — “Earlier this summer, some Washington-area election officials were warning of a possible shortage of volunteers to work the polls come November. But a recent surge in interest has left those same officials with a good problem to have… ‘We have too many right now, to be honest,’ says Eric Olsen, the deputy director of Arlington County’s Board of Elections.” [DCist]
Yard Waste Collection Resumes With Delays — “Due to heavy yard waste volumes associated with the resumption of curbside yard waste collection, some customers may see their yard waste carts delayed until the following day.” [Arlington County]
Turkey Trot 5K Goes Virtual — “Organizers of the annual Arlington Turkey Trot have opted for a ‘virtual’ format for 2020. Instead of running as a group on Thanksgiving morning, the hundreds of Turkey Trot participants are being asked to run on their own the weekend of Thanksgiving.” [InsideNova]
Nearby: D.C. Getting New Area Code — “D.C. has had one single area code — 202 — for more than 70 years. But it will soon be joined by a second area code… The nation’s capital is expected to run out of 202 phone numbers in the third quarter of 2022.” [WTOP]