Early voting in IW, Surry off to slow start

Published 4:01 pm Monday, October 16, 2023

Early votes in Isle of Wight and Surry counties are slowly but steadily trickling in.

Around 800 Isle of Wight voters had cast their ballots in this year’s local and state elections as of Oct. 10, according to Registrar Lisa Betterton.

The 19-day total since early in-person and absentee voting began on Sept. 22 amounts to roughly 2.5% of the county’s 31,392 registered voters.

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In Surry, 217 ballots accounting for 3.8% of the county’s 5,646 registered voters had arrived at Registrar Sharná White’s office by the same date.

Since 2020, Virginia has offered “no excuse” early voting, meaning voters no longer need to state their reasons or voting early to receive a ballot. The date also marked the first mailing of absentee ballots to voters who applied to vote by mail.

This year, Virginia’s General Assembly passed legislation eliminating the requirement that both the voter and a witness sign an absentee ballot for it to be counted. A batch of absentee ballots the Isle of Wight Registrar’s Office had mailed to voters mistakenly still included the outdated language requiring a witness, but lacked a line for the witness to sign.

“We have corrected the instructions for all proceeding mailouts,” Betterton said, noting “at least one other locality has had the same issue.”

Early in-person and absentee ballots accounted for more than half the votes Isle of Wight and Surry cast in the 2020 presidential election.

Early votes in 2021 accounted for just under one-third of Isle of Wight’s 18,672 ballots, and just over one-third of Surry’s 3,536 ballots, cast in that year’s governor’s race.

Last year’s race between U.S. Rep. Jen Kiggans, R-Va., and her Democratic predecessor, Elaine Luria, had drawn 18,533 votes countywide in Isle of Wight, with absentee ballots accounting for just under 30% of the total. In Surry, last year’s race between the late U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Va., and his Republican challenger, Leon Benjamin, had drawn 3,320 countywide votes, of which 1,133 or 34% had been cast early.

There’s still plenty of time for this year’s early vote totals to increase.

Each registrar’s office will remain open for early voting Monday through Friday through Nov. 3, and on Saturdays on Oct. 28 and Nov. 4. Isle of Wight’s is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. while Surry’s hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Voters have until 5 p.m. on Oct. 27 to fill out the form at https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation to request a mail-in absentee ballot in time for the Nov. 7 election.

Prior to the “no excuse” change in Virginia’s voting laws, absentee ballots accounted for a much smaller percentage of countywide races. 

“Both early voting and vote by mail has increased over the years with the increasing awareness and media promotion of the options being available to voters,” White said.

In 2019, absentee ballots accounted for 3½% of the 12,093 Isle of Wight votes and none of Surry’s 669 votes cast in that year’s 64th House District race between Del. Emily Brewer, R-Isle of Wight, and Democratic challenger Michele Joyce, according to past election results.

This year, as a result of redistricting based on the 2020 Census, Surry is in the 82nd District and Isle of Wight is split between the 83rd and 84th, all of which are now projected to be more competitive than the strongly Republican 64th.