With today being the last day to vote here in Virginia, Fairfax County has already seen a sharp rise in the number of people voting early. Over 355,000 voters had already cast their ballot by the end of Thursday evening and thousands more are expected to vote before Tuesday.
Analysis shows that over 20% of people who requested an absentee ballot hadn’t already returned it and many people will be sending them over the course of the next few days or returning them while voting in person. As a result, many experts predict well over 50% of registered voters in Fairfax will take part in early voting this year.
There’s been a general belief that people who participate that people who’d vote early would likely skew Democratic and the data suggests that’s an accurate assumption. As of Wednesday, October 28th, 330,133 people in Fairfax County had either returned their mail in ballot or voted at an in person early voting site. 194,826 of those people are identified as strong or lean Democrat in the VAN (a voter database used by advocacy organizations), 45,934 are identified as strong or lean GOP, and 89,373 are somewhere in between. In other words, only 13.91% of early voters were lean or strong GOP.
This could arguably help explain why conservative activist groups been challenging the early voting process. One organization, for instance, filed a lawsuit to prevent the Department of Elections from counting certain ballots that didn’t have a postmark. On Thursday, a judge sided with the group and said there would have to be extra steps taken to help ensure the authenticity of those ballots.
In addition to that, there have been multiple reports of the Republican Party preparing to challenge the ballots of individual reports. The party has requested access to government documents with voter signatures on file, for instance, so they can compare signatures to those on mail in ballots that have been returned. If they foresee even the slightest discrepancies, the GOP could ask for votes to be thrown out.
The ACLU recently point out challenging the signatures used for mail in ballot is a form of voter suppression that has a greater impact on traditionally marginalized communities. Considering the early voting process is designed in part to make the voting process easier, it’s hoped that these communities would be able to utilize these programs to cast their ballot. Many low income workers, for instance, might not be able to get off work in time to stand in line for several hours (and the lines have been especially long here in Fairfax). The mail in ballot process is therefore extremely important.
On top of that, the ACLU highlighted how people’s signature could naturally look different even if it’s not intentional. If you were to simply look over consumer receipts you’ve signed, for instance, it’s likely you’ll notice a difference. The difference could be even further increased when considering how the signature on file was often done several years ago.
With all this in mind, many analysts are interested in seeing what the long term impact the increased early voting numbers will have on the election process. While many people are voting early due to the pandemic, after all, this will mean more people are familiar with the concept. One therefore cannot help but wonder if they consider doing so again in future elections.