Sunday, November 1, 2009

More voters had submitted early ballots in Virginia’s gubernatorial election before Saturday, the final day for in-person absentee voting, than had cast early ballots in the state’s 2005 contest, officials say.

The increase from about 76,000 total ballots cast early in 2005 to nearly 80,000 votes cast as of Friday, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections, could signal a higher turnout for this year’s contest between Republican Robert F. McDonnell and Democrat R. Creigh Deeds.

Nancy Rodriques, secretary of the State Board of Elections, said, “Were hoping for at least a 50 percent turnout,” but she added that the board would welcome a higher number of voters.

The reason for the increase in ballots could be changes to Virginia’s voting laws and that more people know they can vote absentee, Ms. Rodrigues said.

Despite polls showing Mr. McDonnell leading Mr. Deeds comfortably, voters came out to cast absentee ballots in Alexandria and across the state Saturday.

Standing outside the polling station in Alexandria, Anna Leider, secretary of the Alexandria City Electoral Board, said there had been “more absentee voting this time than in 2005.”

Mei-Ling Klein and her husband, Frank, stopped by the farmers market and then walked across the street to cast their ballots. The couple, along with other voters, described the absentee voting process as easy.

The Kleins said they supported the Democratic ticket but were especially inspired by Mr. Deeds and their delegate, David Englin.

Michael Meyers, a McDonnell supporter who had just attended a rally for the candidate in Springfield, drove to Alexandria to cast his ballot. He said the process was so easy that hes “encouraging everybody. Im surprised by the number of people.”

The state has not received 27,243 mailed ballots, which had to have been requested by Oct. 27. Ballots must be received by the close of polls on Election Day. On Tuesday, polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

More people are entitled to cast ballots early, including law enforcement officers and emergency response personnel. The General Assembly also passed three bills this year that contained provisions requiring that all three types of ballots - e-mail, mail and in-person touch-screen voting - be made available at least 45 days before election day.

Additionally, the laws mandate that absentee-ballot requests be processed by localities within three days of receipt, and they expand the eligibility to receive e-mail ballots to all military members outside the state.

Counting down the hours until Election Day, the candidates traversed the state Saturday.

Mr. McDonnell began the day at a rally in Springfield with the Republican ticket and with supporters including Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

“But now the TV has been done, the radio’s done, the slick gloss fliers are in the mail, the signs have been printed,” he said. “Now it’s up to you. It is up to voter turnout. … And it comes down to how much you can do to get out this message.”

He then traveled to Fredericksburg, Chesterfield and Williamsburg. The Republican was scheduled to finish the day at the Leesburg Halloween Parade.

Mr. Deeds was also scheduled to make an appearance at the parade.

Gov. Tim Kaine, U.S. Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, along with some other members of Congress, joined the Democratic ticket at various get-out-the-vote stops in the southern part of the state. Mr. Deeds began the day in Christiansburg and stopped in Pulaski and Max Meadows before he was scheduled to take part in the Leesburg parade. He was expected to finish the day in Richmond.

On Friday, Mr. Deeds spent more time in Northern Virginia.

At a get-out-the-vote event in Alexandria on Friday, Mr. Deeds told supporters: “If we take personal responsibility for this election in the next four days and drive out every single vote we can, if we work the phones, knock on the doors and we talk to our friends and neighbors, even the people we don’t like very much, if we talk to everybody in the next four days, we can make history.”

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