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“Usually we wouldn’t see them appearing so soon,” admits Gary Scott, Fairfax County Electoral Officer.
Local election officials were already bracing for a record turnout in the 2020 presidential election, but a surprising convergence of events sparked interest beyond expectations: fears over the integrity of ballots. postal voting; the COVID-19 pandemic; and the political struggle for the vacancy of the United States Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
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“We expect a 90% turnout in the county,” Scott said. In 2016, the participation rate was 82.5%.
In the long line of voters, there is a constant sense of urgency.
“I can’t believe how many people are already here,” Trump supporter Ben Johnson said as he watched the line. “I hope they will vote for the right candidate,” he added.
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Virginia has one of the longest early voting periods in the country, starting 45 days before the election. Some 39 states and Washington, DC, allow some form of advance voting in person before election day, and polls show just over half of Americans plan to take advantage of advance voting in person or by mail.
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In Fairfax County, most voters are Democrats, and they are largely afraid of a contested election result. President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election by challenging postal voting have resonated.
“There is a lot of anxiety,” said voter Darryl Green, when asked why he was voting early. “We just want to make sure our vote is counted.”
“With all the potential controversy with all of the mail-in ballots, I just thought it would be best to vote in person,” said voter Ruth Lowery.
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An election campaign is a dynamic and constantly evolving event.
Each rapid development seemed to cause a new urgency to vote, for supporters of Trump and Joe Biden.
Twin siblings Steve and Sally Jones were both in line to vote for their very first time.
Sally Jones said she was motivated by Trump’s rush to fill the vacant Supreme Court position. “We really hope to grant the last wish of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is not to be replaced until a new president is in office,” she said.
Her brother Steve called it a “high stakes election year.”
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Political experts have warned that no single event is likely to outweigh the strong feelings most voters already have about the two presidential candidates. On the contrary, events like the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, simply add fuel to an already burning fire.
“Interest in this election was already very high,” said Kyle Kondik, of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
“I think a lot of Democrats are more excited to vote against Trump than they are for Biden,” he added.
Don Kammer, a Republican volunteer in Fairfax County, admitted that supporters of both parties are motivated by the same thing, but for very different reasons.
“They want to do their due diligence as responsible citizens,” Kammer said. “I think a lot of the motivation comes from the fear of the future.”
The result is that so many people will be voting in advance, or by mail, that by the time Election Day arrives on November 3, Fairfax County estimates that the vast majority of eligible voters will have already voted.
“That only leaves about 30 percent of the turnout to go to the polls,” Scott said.
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