FAIRFAX, Va. — There are still 40 days until the U.S. election, yet the line for early voting at the Fairfax Government Center stretches from one end of the sprawling parking lot to the other, before doubling-back to the front doors.
The average voter will wait for up to four hours, with the line forming well before the doors open each day. It has been like this every day since early voting started in this part of Virginia.
“Generally, we would not see them showing up this early,” acknowledges Gary Scott, director of elections for Fairfax County.
Local election officials were already bracing for record turnout in the 2020 Presidential election, but a surprising convergence of events has driven interest beyond all expectations: fears about the integrity of mail-in ballots; the COVID-19 pandemic; and the political fight over the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“We’re anticipating a 90 per cent turnout in the county,” Scott said. In 2016, voter turn out was 82.5 per cent.
In the long line of voters, there’s a consistent sense of urgency.
“I can’t believe how many people are here already,” said Trump supporter Ben Johnson as he surveyed the line. “Hopefully they’re voting for the right candidate,” he added.
Virginia has one of the longest early voting periods in the country, beginning 45 days before the election. Some 39 states and Washington, D.C., allow for some form of in-person early voting before Election Day, and polls show slightly more than half of Americans plan to take advantage of early voting in person, or by mail.
In Fairfax County, most voters are Democrats, and they’re largely fearful of a disputed election outcome. President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine the legitimacy of the election by calling into question mail-in voting have resonated.
“There is a lot of anxiety,” said voter Darryl Green, when asked why he’s voting early. “We just want to make sure our vote is counted.”
“With all the potential controversy with all the mail-in ballots I just thought it would be better to vote in person,” said voter Ruth Lowery.
An election campaign is a dynamic, ever-evolving event.
Each rapid-fire development has seemed to bring about a new urgency to vote, for supporters of both Trump and Joe Biden.
Twin siblings Steve and Sally Jones were both in line to cast a ballot for their very first time.
Sally Jones said she was motivated by Trump’s rush to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. “We’re really hoping to grant the last wish of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, which is to not be replaced until there’s a new president in office,” she said.
Her brother Steve called it a “high stakes election year.”
Political experts have cautioned that no single event is likely to outweigh the strong feelings most voters already have about the two presidential candidates. Rather, events like the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, simply add fuel to an already-burning fire.
“The interest in this election was already really high,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
“I think a lot of Democrats are more enthusiastic about voting against Trump as opposed to for Biden,” he added.
Don Kammer, a volunteer with the Fairfax County Republicans, acknowledged supporters of both parties are being motivated by the same thing, but for very different reasons.
“They want to do their due diligence as responsible citizens,” Kammer said. “I think a lot of the motivation comes from a fear of the future.”
The result is that so many people will vote in advance, or by mail, that by the time election day arrives on Nov. 3, Fairfax County estimates the vast majority of eligible voters will have already cast their ballot.
“That leaves only about 30 per cent of the turnout to go to the polls,” Scott said.