Virginia early voting opens with long lines, big turnout

Northern Virginia residents hoping to get a jump on the first day of early voting in the Commonwealth were unexpectedly met with hour-long waits.

Friday marked Day 1 of early voting for the 2020 Election in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Maryland and Washington D.C. begin early voting next month.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about voting in Virginia today county by county

In Virginia, state and local officials have relentlessly promoted voting by mail heading into the fall, but that did not stop people from exercising the tried and true method on Friday.

“Get out early or do it by mail because we don’t want these lines November 3rd,” said Victor Gavin, who on Friday, encouraged everyone to vote early whether in-person or by mail.

When asked why he decided to bring his family rather than vote by mail, Gavin answered, “It gets rid of your anxiety – the anxiety that the nation is felling when it comes to this election.”

“I felt a sense of expedience was necessary, if nothing more, to satisfy my own sense of responsivity,” said Al Aportela.

“I wanted to come today to make sure I got it done. I knew it was going to be a long line, but if I can wait in line for groceries, I can wait in line to vote,” said Elizabeth Bainbridge.

All three waited for three to four hours outside of the Fairfax County Government Center polling location.

Download the FOX 5 DC News App for Local Breaking News and Weather

FOX 5’s SKYFOX Drone filmed the long lines stretching out from the government building since the site opened at 8 a.m.

A couple who told FOX 5 they were in line by then, didn’t leave until 12:40 p.m.

“It was worth it,” the couple said, leaving the area.

Director of Elections for Fairfax County, Gary Scott, told FOX 5 they were slightly surprised by the turnout and were only anticipating around 400 voters.

By 4 p.m., a spokesperson with the county told FOX 5 they counted around 800 votes.

“[We’re] putting in the mail today and tomorrow 140,000 ballots. If you want to put that in perspective, that’s more than the total absentee turnout for 2016, which was a 137,000,” Scott told FOX 5.

He also told FOX 5 they plan on mailing out around 220,000 to 250,000 ballots with another 150,000 to 180,000 voting early in-person. The director joked that may not leave anyone to actually vote on Election Day.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots for the 2020 election at an early, in-person voting location in Arlington, Virginia, on September 18, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP) (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/AFP via Getty Images)

READ MORE: Lines wrap around polling places in DC despite pandemic, protests

“They’ve given several warnings throughout the time here and people, for the most part, have not left so I think it’s just showing people are happy to be able to do something in the right direction, they feel,” said Chad Singleton, also not willing to leave the line.

Ramona Gavin, with her husband Victor, told FOX 5, “I haven’t missed a vote since I was 18 and I always vote in person because I leave so exhilarating. This is what I think makes us a wonderful country.”

Inside the Government Center was a strong reminder, we are still in the midst of a pandemic. At one point, only four people were allowed to register and four people were allowed to vote at a time. Poll workers were wearing gloves, masks and were separated by Plexiglass shields.

Outside, you heard people exchanging phone numbers and social media handles, making new friends after hours of waiting with strangers. Some tell FOX 5 there were also a lot of civil conversations being had between different people.

Gary Scott says people can feel confident voting early via absentee, but if you change your mind and want to vote early in-person, bring that mail-in ballot with you.

He also says the middle of the week is not as busy. Fridays and Saturdays are known to be the busiest, Scott tells FOX 5.

Election officials say in 2016, around 350 voters showed up to the polls on the first day in the Commonwealth. Today, officials say around 1,500 people came to cast their ballot in Fairfax alone –– that’s almost five times as much as four years ago.

Officials say that the expansion of no-excuse absentee voting could have triggered this wave of early voting in that the new lifted restrictions could have enticed first-time voters to come out.