Even as COVID restrictions are lifted, Virginians continue to vote absentee at record high rates

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — 2020 was a record year in Virginia for absentee voting, due to a combination of safety precautions during the pandemic and a new law in Virginia that eliminated the need for an excuse to vote absentee.

As Virginia is reopening and COVID restrictions are lifting, WFXR News wanted to see if early voting enthusiasm is still high.

“It’s easy. It’s quick,” said Nichole Sanders, Chair of the Lynchburg Democratic Committee about early voting. “My impression would be that it would still continue to be very popular, because I think that people like being able to have a little more flexibility in how and when they can vote.”

WFXR News looked at how many people requested absentee ballots from this primary election for Governor and the Presidential Election in November, comparing them to the same exact elections four years earlier.

While the increase in absentee ballots isn’t as high in the primary as it was back in November, it’s still a big difference.

In the 2016 General Election, 2,523 Lynchburg residents cast absentee ballots. In 2020, that number shot up to 17,334, about 6.9 times as many absentee voters compared to four years earlier.

“From my understanding,” said Christine Gibbons, Director of Elections & General Registrar for the City of Lynchburg, “it was even higher, probably due to COVID, and the changes in early voting election laws.”

Even with COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the trend seems to be continuing this year.

In this current primary, about 4.4 times as many people requested absentee ballots compared to the same election four years ago, an increase from 181 in 2017 to 796 in 2021, as of Wednesday morning.

“I think it’s impressive,” said Sanders. “I think it’s great. I think all eligible voters should get out to vote, and if they can vote early, that’s even better.”

Gibbons isn’t surprised by the continued enthusiasm.

“When we were trying to determine how many ballots to order for this election, we took that into account, that more people might be coming in to vote in person or to vote by mail than they have done in the past for a similar election.”

The deadline to request a mail-in absentee ballot for the June 8 primary has passed, but early in-person voting is open through Saturday at your local Registrar’s office.

The enthusiasm for early voting is not limited to Lynchburg.

In Roanoke, 953 people voted early in the 2016 election. In 2020, more than 12 times that many people voted early with 11,593 casting absentee ballots.

In this primary, more than six times as many people have voted early. 859 requested ballots compared to 136 votes cast in the 2017 primary.

Down in Danville, General Election absentee ballots went from 2,264 to 12,585 between 2016 and 2020, more than five times as many.

But this primary has stayed about the same, from 178 early votes in 2017 to 212 requested this year.

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