As most people already know, while Election Day itself is Nov. 3, it’s possible to vote early in person or by mail in Virginia, and as of July 1, any registered voter is permitted to vote by absentee ballot without providing a reason.
In our admittedly unscientific Alexandria Times poll last week, we asked the local citizenry how they plan to vote in the general election this year.
As is usually the case with data, the results from the more than 230 respondents can be sliced more than one way. If one wants to emphasize the early voting aspect, the unscientific results were clear: more than 63% of respondents said they plan to vote early either in person or by mail.
Conversely, poll respondents said in even greater numbers that they plan to vote in person rather than by mail: 75% of respondents said they will cast their ballots in person either early or on election day. The final poll breakdown percentage-wise was 39% plan to vote early in person, 36% plan to vote in person on Election Day and 25% plan to mail in absentee ballots.
Early voting began in Virginia at 8 a.m. on Sept. 18. When the doors to the Alexandria Voter Registration Office at 132 N. Royal St. opened right on time, 56 socially distant, masked people were lined up and waiting in the adjacent courtyard.
Virginians from across the state, like the rest of the country, seem unusually motivated to vote in this election. Early voting lines snaked outside of government offices in deep blue Alexandria and Fairfax County last Friday, but localities in deep red southwest Virginia are also reporting that unusually large numbers of people are voting early in person or are dropping off absentee ballots.
Like seemingly everything else in 2020, this election is different.
There have been rumblings from supporters of both presidential candidates that their side will not accept the election results if their candidate loses. Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a statistically significant lead in most polls, and at this point in the race he is the clear favorite.
However, four years ago former Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton also led in pre-election polling only to lose on election night. There is definitely a path for President Donald Trump to win re-election by cobbling together an electoral college victory, just as he did four years ago.
Here’s the crux: What’s most at stake in this election isn’t who occupies the White House for the next four years. It really isn’t.
Increasingly, partisanship or dislike of a particular candidate is blinding normally reasonable people on both sides to the bigger picture. And the larger picture is the need for confidence in our democratic institutions.
What’s really at stake is our democratic republic itself, not who gets to pick judges for four years. That’s not to say that choosing judges is not important. It’s one of the most significant, and lasting, actions a president takes.
But life is ebb and flow. One party holds power for 12 years, the other for eight, the other for eight more, the other for eight more and so on. During each of those chunks of time the country moves a bit in the direction of the party in the White House. And then it moves back. Neither side permanently wins – nor should they.
That’s the most constructive prism through which to view this, or any, election.
What can individual, well-intentioned Alexandrians and Americans do to tone down the temptation to view every single thing through our own partisan lenses?
We offer three suggestions:
1) Vote “Yes” on Amendment 1 on the Virginia electoral ballot – and be sure and turn the ballot over so you see the amendments. A yes vote on Amendment 1 will minimize the partisanship in drawing electoral districts in Virginia. It’s important, and because of the politics involved, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to enact redistricting reform.
2) Vote in person if at all possible, either early or on Election Day. The more people who vote in person, the better the chance that Virginia’s 13 electoral votes will be determined on Nov. 3. It’s important for our democratic process that this election be decided as early as possible.
3) This may be the hardest: Accept the election outcome. If your candidate doesn’t win and you blame the system, then work constructively to change the system, but don’t discredit it.
Eagerness to vote, from both Democrats and Republicans, is a good sign. But when each person casts their vote, they are also agreeing to participate in the system as it is.
E Pluribus Unum.