ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Voting for the 2020 general election is underway. Voters across the commonwealth of Virginia, including candidates for Congress, headed to the polls Friday to cast early ballots.
The Old Dominion has in the past featured large rallies on the eve of Election Day. But in the age of COVID-19, Virginians are being encouraged to take advantage of new early and mail-in voting options.
With a limited number of polling places open on Day One, there were reports of long lines in some jurisdictions, though that wasn’t the case here late in the morning when Sen. Mark Warner showed up at the Alexandria Voter Registration Office in Old Town, nor far from his house.
“I just exercised my constitutional right, and I strongly encourage all Virginians to take advantage of our new rules, where you can vote early,” the Virginia Democrat, who is seeking a third term, told reporters. “Starting today, for the next 45 days, 9 to 5. We also have seen over 800,000 people who’ve had absentee applications — that’s tripled the amount that we had in 2016.”
Warner noted his work on the Senate Intelligence Committee and threats to election security, but said the way to combat those challenges was through voter turnout, especially in early voting.
“The best signal, whether you’re for me or against me, that people are coming out and voting in these kind of numbers on our first day, gives me that faith that we will get through this virus,” he said. “We will get through the misinformation and disinformation, but the most effective way we can do that and show that strength of our democracy is [to] go out and vote.”
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Warner’s race against Republican Army veteran Daniel Gade Solid Democratic. But like candidates elsewhere, the senator is taking nothing for granted. In 2014, he got a scare on election night when his race against Republican Ed Gillespie went unexpectedly down to the wire, and he barely held on to win.
Warner’s campaign has had to adjust to the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, which forced one of the hallmark events of Virginia politics, his “Almost Annual Pig Roast,” into an online format for 2020.
In a normal year, Warner invites thousands to his farm property in King George, Virginia, for a pig roast. The 2020 virtual event took place Thursday evening, featuring Warner in conversation with Democrats in Virginia’s House delegation along with the commonwealth’s junior senator, Tim Kaine, and special guests Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Jill Biden, the wife of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Jill Biden has a connection to the state, having taught community college in Northern Virginia.
While some of the conversation Thursday evening was serious, it was not all that way. Kaine even took responsibility for a long-ago pig roast incident in which he apparently destroyed one of Warner’s jet skis.
“I don’t know if you remember, about 15 years ago, when one of your jet skis got sunk? That was me and one of my kids. I figured I’d fess up to it now,” said Kaine, who was previously Virginia lieutenant governor when Warner was governor.
“No! Do you know how much that cost?” Warner said. “Oh my gosh, Tim. Nobody told me.”
Booker provided some comic relief Thursday, with both Warner and Booker highlighting the fact that the New Jersey Democrat is a vegan.
“First of all, I just want to say, this whole thing is not kosher, man. It’s just not kosher,” Booker said, on the even of Rosh Hashana, no less. “I would walk through fire for you, but this one? A pig roast, those poor little piglets? This was a hard one for me.”
Kaine voted early Friday morning in Richmond, Virginia, while Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton arrived early to vote at the Loudoun County Office of Elections in Leesburg.