Ed. — This story ran on Nov. 9 in print, and it was archived online on Dec. 29.
BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE AND JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE
VIRGINIA BEACH — A day of strong turnout in Virginia Beach, when citizens ventured out on Election Day to tackle an ample ballot, was foreshadowed by an unusually large number of absentee voters for a midterm election here.
“The midterm election has been, for us, like a presidential election,” said Donna Patterson, the city director of elections and general registrar on Tuesday, Nov. 6 – though with not quite as many people overall.
“It’s exciting,” Patterson added.
When early in-person absentee numbers and absentee ballot requests skyrocketed, Patterson said she and other voting officials knew this would be a big year for participation.
“We passed 2014 numbers almost a month ago,” Patterson said.
This year, 7,782 in-person absentee votes were cast and 9,449 were requested by mail, or about 17,231. Nearly 15,000 absentee ballots were cast, overall, according to unofficial returns posted by the Virginia Department of Elections.
Those numbers are lower than during the 2016 presidential vote, but far higher than the 2014 midterms, when 2,720 in-person absentee votes were cast and 2,523 absentee ballots by mail, a sum total of 5,243.
“You can’t even compare the two midterms,” Patterson said on Election Day.
This year, Virginia Beach voters tackled a U.S. senate race, a U.S. Congress race, two state ballot initiatives and number of City Council and School oard races, including special elections for mayor and for the Centerville District council seat.
National issues seemed to be at the forefront of voters’ concerns in the Ocean Lakes precinct, where a steady stream of voters visited the polls midday.
Ocean Lakes resident Raquel Judy, 36, said that, as an immigrant from Mexico, she is particularly concerned about the national discussion of immigration.
“I would like to see less animosity on that issue,” she said.
Ocean Lakes precinct voters also expressed concern about the divisive nature of national politics.
“I’m concerned about the political climate,” said Travis Zinn, 24, who said that he is also a regular voter.
A number of voters said they were concerned about flooding, a major issue in Virginia Beach, including in the Princess Anne District, where wind-driven flooding events have flooded streets and property.
“I think the real issue for everybody down here is flooding,” Marti McLeod of Creeds, who is retired, said after voting at Oak Grove Baptist Church.
At the Capps Shop precinct at Back Bay Christian Assembly, 35-year-old Michael Mauch of Pungo said flooding was a “hot button” issue – and the number of local races on the ballot mattered in Virginia Beach.
“It’s a huge election year for us,” he said. “It could change the city.”
In Ocean Lakes, Arleen Hendrickson, 74, said that she wanted to see “truth and dignity” restored to the national conversation. “I think that the current lack of civil discourse has seeped into society.”
Education was a priority for Lago Mar resident Debra Bryan, 51.
“We have a fantastic school system,” Bryan said, “but we need to move forward with innovation and technology for the good of our children.”
Turnout was extremely heavy in the Sigma precinct, according to Chief Election Officer Fay Malcolm-Allen.
“We’ve had a wonderful day,” she said.
And Susie Kovacs, chief election officer in the Blackwater precinct, also enjoyed strong turnout – and that voters seemed to know what they were doing with a big ballot.
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