In the weeks since early voting started in Virginia, legions of voters have braved long lines, the threat of COVID-19, and in some cases the menacing taunts of raucous right-wing bikers, to cast their vote for president, their congressional representative and other candidates appearing on the ballot for state and county-level seats.
This has all happened as the Virginia Courts quietly acquiesced to demands to extend the voter registration deadline after the state’s online portal shut down for several hours earlier this month on what Virginia Department of Election officials designated as the last day of voter registration.
Amid such circumstances, some Black people like Lou Neely said they’re constantly reminded about what’s at stake this election season.
“We’ve seen the decay in race relations over time in this country, but it’s gotten 500 times worse with the Trump regime. They have stoked the flames of racial hate and division,” said Neely, a Fairfax County resident of more than 25 years.
On Saturday, Neely and his wife casted their vote at the Fairfax County Government Center, reflecting on the events of the last four years, and lessons learned about the necessity of credible congressional leadership.
“The Republicans in the Senate are not doing their job,” Neely said. “They are going to sleep and [there are not] the correct checks and balances.”
Neely, a septuagenarian with recollections of the Civil Rights era, later bemoaned what he called the gradual loss of voter protections.
“During our lifetime, there was a time when we couldn’t vote, but now they’re trying to take away the vote. I don’t understand the suppression. If they feel that confident in their policies then let the voters speak,” he told The Informer.
The Heat Turns Up in Virginia
Weeks before the Neelys performed their civic duty, the Brothers in Christ Motorcycle Ministry and the co-chair of the Republican National Committee, among several other people, brought their “Trump Train” caravan to the Fairfax County Government Building where they spent more than an hour revving their engines, blowing their horns, and waving their Trump flags.
The group eventually gathered in a nearby parking lot for a spontaneous rally. Their chanting and heckling of voters concerned poll workers who, despite the health risks of gathering in closed spaces during a pandemic, opened an additional room in the government building to provide voters a refuge while they waited to cast ballots.
In the days following that incident, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring outlined guidance for poll workers and reiterated institutionalized protections against voter intimidation.
In Virginia, two Democrats are fighting to keep their congressional seats, while one Republican in a pro-Trump district struggles to maintain a decisive lead over a Democratic contender. On Monday, the Virginia Department of Elections reported that nearly two million people voted early, and more than two million Virginia residents requested absentee ballots. That’s considered a record by election officials.
Despite what pundits have described as President Donald Trump’s dismissal of Virginia as a battleground state, Democrats within the increasingly blue state said they believe Vice President Joe Biden will get the state’s 13 electoral college votes.
Standing in their way however, are groups of Trump supporters that, even on the quietest of days, continue to mobilize at polling stations with red “Make America Great Again” hats, campaign paraphernalia and an intense abhorrence for progressive values.
“Racism is in every country, not just here [and] it’s not systemic,” said Christine L., a Trump supporter who spent much of Saturday afternoon near the entrance of the Fairfax County Government Center at a table where conservatives openly discussed their apprehensions about a Biden presidency.
“I don’t believe that Republicans are portrayed as racist,” said Christine, who identifies as Asian. “I see more violence from leftists rioting and breaking into stores than I do Trump supporters,” she continued. “Trump made promises and he kept promises. He wasn’t a regular politician. He wanted to build a wall. That’s a great idea to keep out illegal immigrants.”
The Bigger Picture
With early voting scheduled to wrap up on Oct. 31, local candidates are making a last-minute attempt to engage voters at the polls. In Arlington County, Symone Walker, a contender for an Arlington School Board seat, counted among those who posted up along Clarendon Boulevard outside a polling site.
A key part of Walker’s platform centers on equity and curriculum development. While she agreed that the presidential race stands as one of the most consequential of this season, she maintained a position that local races carry just as much weight.
In her appeal to voters, Walker has focused on local and state-level problems resonating with community members.
“People tend to focus on the presidential race, and maybe more people are focused on the Senate [this time] but voters need to educate themselves about the local issues, like county ordinances, zoning, and school board issues that impact voters directly on a daily basis,” Walker told The Informer.
“The reason why President Obama couldn’t accomplish what he wanted is because people didn’t come out for the congressional races,” she added. “He was a lame duck unable to pass legislation and nominate people to the Supreme Court. Voters need to get out of the mindset that the most important race is presidential.”