Hang onto your seats. With one of the largest presidential candidate fields ever and impeachment proceedings recently completed against a sitting president, the 2020 presidential election year is likely to have more ups and downs, twists and turns than any rollercoaster ride.
Local voters can expect to participate in at least three election dates this year to determine candidates for federal office including the president, vice president, a congressional member and senator.
“The general rule of thumb in Virginia is federal elections are in even years, and local and state elections in odd-numbered years,” said Richard “Jake” Washburne, election registrar for Albemarle County.
The dates for voters to exercise their civic duty are March 3 for the presidential primary, June 9 for the state primary and November 3 for the general election.
March 3 Presidential Primary
Super Tuesday has long been known as the date during the presidential primary season when the greatest number of states hold their primaries. This year, that date falls on March 3. Virginia is one of 14 states with a Super Tuesday election and voters have only until Feb. 10 to register if they want to get in on it. Requests for mailed absentee ballots must be made by 5 p.m. on Feb. 25. The ballot must be received by election officials by the time the polls close at 7 p.m. on primary day to be counted.
The March primary will determine only the Democratic party nominee for president. The Republicans decided to opt out of the primary and instead will choose their nominee at a party convention to be held May 1-2 at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
President Trump appears to be a shoo-in, according to one local GOP official. Former congressman Joe Walsh from Illinois and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld are also in the Republican race. “But neither of them is a serious contender,” said Carleton Ballowe, chairman of the Nelson County Republican Committee.
The Democrats, on the other hand, started with 28 candidates, the largest group ever to seek their party’s nomination.
“I don’t remember having this many candidates on the ballot before,” said Jacqueline C. Britt, election registrar for Nelson County since 2009. By the time primary ballots were printed in December, the field was whittled to 14.
The order in which the candidates’ names appear on the ballot form is determined by a random drawing. Ironically, the two candidates who are listed first and second on the ballot—Cory Booker and Julián Castro—have already dropped out of the race. It is too late to reprint the ballots. Their names will still appear on the ballot, along with any others who throw in the towel between now and primary day.
Election officials say they will do their best to let voters know that they are no longer in the race and that a vote for these candidates won’t count.
“With 14 on the ballot it’s almost a sure thing that a few of them will drop out,” said Washburne, the Albemarle registrar. “When that happens, we have to post in all of the voting precincts: ‘ALERT! ATTENTION! The following candidates have withdrawn their candidacies.’ But that still doesn’t prevent someone from filling in the bubble.”
If they fill in the bubble for someone who is no longer running, they essentially wasted their vote. But Nelson Registrar Britt said some voters will still cast their vote for a candidate who left the race because they want to make a point.
“They are committed to their candidates and they want to make sure people know their vote should go to the right candidate,” Britt said. “Voters are free to vote for anyone they want on the ballot, whether they’ve withdrawn … or not.”
Election officials say this year’s turnout in Virginia likely will exceed expectations.
Albemarle has nearly 78,000 registered voters and Washburne said about 20% turned out in 2016, the last time they were asked to select a presidential nominee.
He said he isn’t taking any chances of running out of ballot forms and ordered 40,000, enough for 50% of the registered voters in Albemarle. They arrived via UPS hand truck to his office on January 2.
“The one thing that nobody wants to have happen is to run out of ballots,” Washburne said. “It’s an absolute nightmare. This year there seems to be a great deal of interest. It’s possible it might go up to 30%, so we’ll be prepared.”
Any unused ballots after the election are sent to the Clerk of Court, who holds them in secure storage for a certain period of time. Then they are destroyed.
Nelson County has about 11,000 registered voters. About 36% turned out for the 2016 primary, more than 3,800 voters. Britt said she ordered 8,000 ballots for this year’s primary.
“My ballots are sitting here in the office,” Britt said. “We had our first two in-person absentee voters come in January 20.”
June 9 State Primary
The June 9 state primary will focus on the 5th Congressional District and one of Virginia’s two U.S. Senate seats. The voter registration deadline is May 18. The deadline for voters to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them is 5 p.m. on June 2.
The 5th District’s incumbent, Republican Denver Riggleman, was elected to the seat in 2018. He announced his re-election campaign at an event in Charlottesville January 18.
Although it isn’t official, the Democrats are expected to hold a primary to choose their 5th District candidate for Congress. The Republicans are likely to pick their party nominee by convention. Both parties must let the Virginia Department of Elections know by March what they decide.
Ballowe, the Nelson GOP chairman, said 5th Congressional District party officials are still formalizing their call for a convention.
“We voted to have a convention as opposed to having a primary,” he said. “That decision was made about six weeks ago. The next step is to issue a call for a convention. We will be voting on the language of that call in a meeting on February 8 of the 5th District Committee.”
Besides Riggleman, Bob Good is also running for the GOP nomination. Good is a former assistant athletic director at Liberty University who also served on the Campbell County Board of Supervisors until recently. He officially launched his campaign November 14.
There is still time for other Republicans who want to run for the congressional seat. “The filing period hasn’t ended,” Ballowe said. The GOP meeting on Feb. 8 will determine the date of the district convention and the deadline for candidates to file.
Larry Stopper, chairman of Nelson County’s Democratic Committee, said at least four candidates have filed to run as the party’s nominee for the 5th District. Those include Dr. Cameron Webb, Claire Russo, John Lesinski and Roger Dean Huffstetler.
“All of them entered the race last fall,” Stopper said. “I have heard rumors of a fifth, but I haven’t seen anything officially filed. These are the four that have filed their paperwork.”
Ballotpedia also lists Dr. Shadi Ayyas, a Winchester physician, as a candidate.
On the U.S. Senate side, the seat up for grabs currently belongs to Mark Warner, a Democrat who has served since 2009. Warner has indicated he’ll run for a third term, but he has not yet filed the paperwork. Candidates have until March 26 to join the race.
“Believe me, no one is challenging him,” Stopper said. “We’re happy to have him. Democrats would not challenge him in any way. He’s running unopposed.”
John March, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, said he knows of several GOP candidates who have announced their intention to seek the Senate nomination, but none had officially declared by this newspaper’s publication date.
Those potential candidates include Omari Faulkner, Daniel Gade, Thomas Speciale and Victor Williams.
“One other of whom I am aware is Alissa Baldwin. The Senate candidate will be determined by primary election,” March said in an email response to a question about how the party will pick its nominee.
November 3 General Election
The final and possibly most anticipated election will be in the fall with the November 3 general election. Local voters will get to decide who will plot the nation’s course over the next four years as commander-in-chief. Of course, they will also be able to notch their final choice for vice president, one U.S. senator and their representative for the 5th District in Congress.
Voter registration for the general election ends October 13. The deadline for voters to request that an absentee ballot be mailed to them is 5 p.m. October 27.
There could be a few added wrinkles for local elections officials across the state as the General Assembly considers several bills that could change how elections are run this year. Some bills tinker with the voter registration deadline. Another would allow same-day voter registration. But Washburne has his eye on a few others that deal with early, no-excuse voting.
Virginia joined 37 other states in allowing some form of early voting when the General Assembly approved the measure during last year’s session. But how it will work and during which election cycle it will first appear are details that are still being ironed out in the legislature’s current session.
“Assuming they pass, you’ll be able to go in and vote before election day and you won’t have to have one of those traditional absentee excuses like ‘I’ll be out of town that day,’ or ‘I’m elderly and infirm,’” Washburne said. “We anticipate we’ll be busier than we’ve ever been before with the fall election.”
The local election registrars differ on their expectations about when early voting will actually begin. Britt thinks it could come as soon as May. Washburne anticipates that it will start with the general election in November.
“They have taken up the issue and are rolling the multiple bills into one for the House and one for the Senate,” Britt said. “Until the bills are passed, we won’t know what the final will look it.”
Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election days.
All voters must show a photo ID in order to vote.
To register to vote online, visit www.elections.virginia.gov/registration
Nelson County precinct change: Roseland’s polling location is now at the Massies Mill Ruritan Club, 5439 Patrick Henry Highway in Roseland.