The McLean Governmental Center and Providence Community Center are among the most popular sites for early voting in Fairfax County after the county expanded early voting to 13 satellite locations on Oct. 14.
While voters have shown up in droves throughout the county, turnout has been especially high at those two Tysons-area sites, Mount Vernon Government Center in Alexandria, and Reston’s North County Governmental Center, according to county officials.
The Fairfax County Government Center, which has been open for early voting since Sept. 18, also remains popular, but the addition of the satellite locations has eased some of the pressure there after weeks of unusually long lines and wait times.
The wait time for voting in-person now generally ranges from 20 to 40 minutes, though it varies depending on the time of day and day of the week, Fairfax County public information officer Brian Worthy says, noting that mornings tend to be busier.
Sen. Mark Warner (D), who visited the McLean Governmental Center and other early voting sites in Northern Virginia on Saturday (Oct. 17), called the strong turnout “a great sign.”
“This is the first year we’ve had early voting, so I think maybe in future years, [we could think about] opening up additional sites earlier,” Warner said. “But I also think it’s a great sign of how healthy our democracy is if this many people are coming out to vote.”
Saturday represented the biggest turnout yet for Fairfax County. The nearly 11,000 early votes cast on Oct. 17 exceeded the biggest day for early voting in 2016, which came on the final day for early voting in that election, according to the county elections office.
This past Saturday was biggest day for #earlyvoting yet. Almost 11,000 votes cast—more than the single largest day for early voting during the 2016 #presidential election.#ivotedearly #voteearly #vote2020 #govote #vote #election2020 #2020election pic.twitter.com/xyv6gr43ki
— Fairfax County Votes (@fairfaxvotes) October 19, 2020
Election workers at the McLean Governmental Center on Saturday told Tysons Reporter that the number of people arriving to cast ballots grew throughout the week, starting around 500 people and peaking at 800 people that Friday (Oct. 16).
Turnout continued to be brisk on Saturday, but the lines were shorter and moved more quickly, because some people instead went to Great Falls Library, which opened on Oct. 17 and is only available for early voting on Saturdays.
A limited survey of voters in McLean suggests that, with a contentious presidential race on the ballot, many people feel a strong urgency to not only vote in the upcoming general election, but to ensure that their vote is properly counted.
“I didn’t want to mail it,” McLean resident Anita Petersen said of her absentee ballot. “I want to make sure it’s there in the box.”
When asked why they wanted to vote early, more than one person bluntly responded that they want to “get rid of Trump” and that “democracy” is a key issue for them in this election.
McLean resident Kevin Ejtemai says that he sees voting as an obligation and has voted regularly since becoming a citizen. He decided to vote at the McLean Governmental Center on Saturday after seeing that the line was not too long, waiting less than 30 minutes.
“The presidential election is extremely important,” Ejtemai said. “We have so much at stake. We could be divided or united. I am for uniting us, rather than dividing us, so that’s why I wanted to be here.”
McLean resident Louise Epstein opted to vote using an absentee ballot, because she thought it would be better for her health than going to the polls on Election Day during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Of course, the long lines, including inside, make me wonder whether that’s true,” Epstein said.
Epstein cast her ballot by putting it in a drop-box inside the McLean Governmental Center, but the voting process proved more complicated for her daughter, who returned home from college so that she could deliver her absentee ballot in-person but made a mistake when filling out the ballot.
Epstein estimated that her daughter ultimately took up to 45 minutes to vote, since she needed to have her absentee ballot invalidated so she could vote in-person instead.
Worthy says there are some improperly returned absentee ballots every election, but the Fairfax County Office of Elections has not noticed any unusual issues this year so far.
A county guide to correctly completing an absentee ballot emphasizes that a witness signature is not required for the Nov. 3 election, an accommodation granted due to the pandemic, and voters must enclose their ballot in the provided “B” envelope even if they plan to return it in person.
The deadline for early voting this year is at 5 p.m. on Oct. 31, though absentee ballots can be delivered by hand until 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 or by mail until noon on Nov. 6.
Worthy says it is too early to speculate how Fairfax County will adapt its early voting procedures for future elections based on its experience with this election, which is Virginia’s first with no-excuse absentee voting.
“Our elections officials can’t even think about the next election until we finish this one!” Worthy said. “But I know they’ll certainly be using any lessons learned from this one as they plan for the 2021 [election] which should have much lower turnout compared to this November.”