Democracy was put to the test again Tuesday as voters in Virginia, New Jersey and several major cities went to the polls after a year marred by doubts about election security, the riot at the U.S. Capitol and enduring concern among Republicans that the November 2020 election was stolen from President Trump.
In the nation’s most closely watched contest, voters in both parties generally expressed confidence in the integrity of the race for governor of Virginia.
Denise Trab, 44, of Arlington, voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin and said she trusts Virginia’s election process.
“I don’t believe in the conspiracy theories,” she said.
Kara Blank-Gonzalez, 50, of Arlington, voted for Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former governor seeking another four-year term in Richmond, and works as a Democratic campaign volunteer. She said she has doubts about “how much fraud there actually is.”
“Election integrity is very important,” she said. “I do think that our election system overall is fair. Part of the reason I’m volunteering is so that I can be a part of that, and just be a little bit more informed and aware of how it works and have trust in the election system.”
The results from the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey were still coming in at press time Tuesday night.
Nationwide, the turmoil of the 2020 presidential contest, Mr. Trump’s relentless claims of a stolen election and questions about the security of expanded mail-in voting during the pandemic have left mistrust about election results, mostly among Republicans.
An NPR/PBS/Marist poll released Monday found that 86% of Democrats and 60% of independents have a “great deal” or “good amount” of trust that elections are fair, but only 34% of Republicans agree.
Most Americans in the poll (62%) said they will trust the results of the 2024 presidential election even if their candidate loses. That includes 82% of Democrats but only 33% of Republicans.
More than eight in 10 (81%) Americans said they believe there is a “serious threat” to democracy, including 89% of Republicans, 80% of independents and 79% of Democrats.
“Americans agree that our democracy is threatened but strongly split along party lines as to the causes,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion.
A survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute released this week found that 31% of Americans, including two-thirds of Republicans, believe the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump.
In New York on Tuesday, Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik sent out an “urgent” message claiming “voter suppression from New York Democrats” over mask policies.
“Team Elise is receiving reports from some towns and cities that voters are being told they must wear a mask in order to vote,” her campaign said in an email. “This is illegal voter suppression. There is currently NO mandate requiring a voter to wear a mask to go vote despite what a Democrat poll worker will try to tell you.”
Leaving a paper trail
New Jersey voters in Millburn, a suburb west of Newark, said “paper trail” upgrades to the voting process bolstered their confidence in election security. Voters told The Washington Times that they filled out their ballots by hand before feeding them into a machine. In the past, they made selections on a machine and hoped they were recorded.
“There’s a paper trail, so you’re clearly not going to have an issue with the machine,” Michael Esposito said after he voted for Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy at the Casa Colombo Civic Association. “It’s literally with a Sharpie, and you feed it in like when you did the old statewide tests with the pencil.”
Like many other Democrats, he sees claims of fraud as more of a campaign tactic than a genuine complaint. “There’s been nothing that’s really shown, other than hearsay,” he said. “There’s no impact. It’s just gaslighting.”
Voters in New Jersey signed electronic instead of paper polling books this year. The books are updated in real time to prevent people from voting in multiple locations. Some polling locations reported problems connecting the machines to Wi-Fi, causing delays.
Nellie Bailey, who voted at the Millburn Public Library, said the paper trail is “safer and more accurate so nobody can say it was fraud.”
“That’s why they have the new system,” she said.
John Ward, who voted for Republican gubernatorial contender and former state Rep. Jack Ciattarelli, said it felt odd to fill out a ballot manually and slide it into a machine, though he trusts his neighbors who operate the polls.
“I guess it’s secret. It works for me,” Mr. Ward said. “I live in town. I know most of those people. I’m not looking for any kind of fooling-around there.”
Patra Clarke, a Murphy voter in Millburn, said she cast her vote in person on Election Day because she is wary of mail-in voting.
“Some of it might get lost. Not intentionally, but through carelessness,” she said.
In Virginia, the legislature has expanded absentee voting permanently this year and no longer requires a reason. But the commonwealth has reinstituted a requirement for a witness signature on absentee ballots, and officials are contacting voters who have submitted ballots without witness signatures. Voters have until Friday to correct the ballots, or their votes won’t be counted.
McAuliffe supporter Princess McEvilley of Aldie said she believes the partisan divide over election integrity has grown because “people think their voices are louder than what they are, and not equal with everyone else.” She said the tensions are fueled by a hate, mainly against minorities, that predates the Capitol riot.
“I could see the hate, the Charlottesville  demonstrations,” said Ms. McEvilley, who is Black. “The hate that’s going against the Asian culture, too. We have come so far in this country to bring everybody together. Then, all of a sudden, it started to deteriorate. And I see a lot of people who back in the ’60s probably weren’t on my side and my family’s side that are doing that.”
Gibson McMahon, 44, of Alexandria voted for Mr. Youngkin and volunteered for his campaign. She said she doesn’t believe some Republicans’ fears that the persistent claims of voter fraud were suppressing the turnout in the party.
“I’ve been working several cycles now at our polls, and I’ve always found them to be good,” she said. “I did not like that we can vote for six weeks [before Election Day]. In my opinion, that’s way too long a window for early voting. I do agree with definitely early voting, but not six weeks’ worth.”
Jadyn Marks, 23, of Arlington, a law student at Georgetown University who cast her ballot for Mr. McAuliffe, said she voted in person on Tuesday because she didn’t get around to voting by mail.
“I don’t really believe there’s widespread voter fraud,” she said.
In Florida and Georgia, voters faced new ID requirements for voting by mail. Rickey Bevington, a host for Georgia Public Broadcasting, said she encountered a snag with the new voting restrictions.
“I accidentally went to the wrong voting precinct. I’m barred from casting a provisional ballot before 5pm,” she tweeted. “Since I work until 7pm, I must go to the other precinct now or my vote won’t count. Grateful to have time & a car.”
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.