Election 2020Politics

Black Voters Take Advantage of Early Voting in Virginia

In the week since early voting started, registered voters of various ethnicities in the commonwealth of Virginia have taken to the polls in great numbers to avoid expected long wait times, and the threat of COVID-19, at polling stations on Nov. 3.

Despite the appeal of mail-in ballots, some local Black voters, like LeRena Thomas, said they’ve made time not only to participate in the political process as early as possible, but to ensure that they circumvent any attempts by the Trump administration to interrupt mail deliveries.

“Trump’s reckless and that’s my biggest concern,” Thomas told The Informer on Monday evening, just moments after leaving a polling station on North Royal Street in Alexandria, Va.

“Most of my issues are national,” Thomas continued.

“Especially with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passing away, I’m concerned about women’s rights, policing, and Black votes. The president doesn’t seem to care that Black people are getting killed by police. I lost two people to COVID, and it’s upsetting because I’ve been through a lot this year and he’s not doing right,” said Thomas, an Alexandria resident.

Thomas was among the thousands of Virginians who’ve gone to polling places since Sept. 18, when early voting, scheduled to be in effect until Oct. 31, started. In addition to the presidential contest, voters are also deciding on local, state and congressional races, along with some constitutional amendments.

Unlike previous elections, when voters could only submit ballots early under special circumstances, early voting was open to all registered voters. Polling places throughout Northern Virginia, particularly precincts with a sizable Democratic population, have reported long lines of voters wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

On Friday, members of the Brothers in Christ Motorcycle Ministry and co-chair of the Republican National Committee, were among the Trump supporters who formed a “Trump Train” caravan from Manassas to Fairfax. Once they touched down at the Fairfax County Government Building with engines revving, horns blowing, and Trump flags waving, they those who were lined up to vote.

Eventually, they gathered in a nearby parking lot for a spontaneous rally.

Members of the group moved to the front entrance of the building, where they remained for the next hour. When they reached the area where the voting line was formed, they continued to chant, heckle voters, and wave their flags in support of the president.

The group’s actions concerned poll workers, so much so that, despite the health risks of gathering in closed spaces during a pandemic, they opened an additional room in the government building to provide voters a refuge while they waited to cast ballots.

“It was very intimidating: leather-clad motorcycle guys with ‘Blue Lives Matter’ on their motorcycles,” said a volunteer poll watcher who requested anonymity out of fear for her safety.

“They were told to honk their horns and tell voters waiting in line who they should vote for. They wanted to cause a disruption, which was inappropriate and borderline illegal.”

Back in Alexandria, a voter who asked to be identified as Shawn J. said that, given the rise of conspicuous racial animosity in the U.S., early voting, much like what his mother exposed him to as a youngster, is necessary to effect change.

On Monday, a masked Shawn J., accompanied by his wife and son, approached the ballot box.

“Early voting was easy and available to us. I don’t want the next generation to see the political process the way I consider it now,” he told The Informer. “[Participating in] early voting assures us that no one would mess with the mail-in votes for us. The issues that concern me are police reform, healthcare and education — the issues we watched Congress not address for the last four years.”

Another voter who asked to be identified as Roxana shared Shawn J.’s sentiments, telling The Informer that, with the threat of a backlog at local post offices, she wanted to fulfill her goal in person.

On Monday, after leaving the ballot box, she joined her husband outside, still anxious about the future but relieved that she voted early.

“It’s important that every vote count,” Roxana said. “I know it’s going to be crazy on November 3 with the amount of people coming to the polls. This needs to be done earlier with COVID-19 going on. All of us have to keep precaution and keep safety first while performing our civic duty.”

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