It wasn’t a presidential election year, but it seemed like it in some precincts in Chesterfield County and other parts of the Richmond area Tuesday as voters turned out in force for the midterm congressional elections and U.S. Senate race.
Long lines in Chesterfield left voters waiting at two precincts in a battlefield district and prompted a court order to leave the polls open an additional two hours. The Virginia Department of Elections said the order extended voting to 9 p.m. in the Spring Run and Birkdale districts, both in the 7th Congressional District battleground between Rep. Dave Brat, the Republican incumbent, and Democrat Abigail Spanberger.
State Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, was at Spring Run Elementary School shortly before the polls closed at 7 p.m. and said the wait to vote was more than two hours long.
Turnout was heavy from the beginning in the county, considered pivotal to the outcome of a 7th District race that could help shift the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives. Part of Chesterfield also lies in the 4th Congressional District, in which Rep. Donald McEachin, the Democratic incumbent, easily defeated Republican Ryan McAdams.
“There are lines everywhere, which is so unusual for a midterm election. ... It looks more like a presidential election,” Chesterfield Registrar Constance Tyler said at midday Tuesday.
Tyler’s office could not be reached on Tuesday night to explain the wait at the two precincts in which voting hours were extended.
Turnout also was heavy in Richmond and Henrico County.
By 4 p.m., three hours before the polls closed, 62 percent of registered voters had already cast their ballots at two South Richmond precincts — Southampton Elementary School and Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, which are part of the 4th District, not the 7th.
The same was true in Henrico, not only in the western precincts in the 7th, but also the eastern precincts in the 4th.
“Varina is just as heavy as Three Chopt and Brookland,” said Henrico Registrar Mark Coakley, referring to magisterial districts in the county’s eastern and western areas.
Turnout in the Brookland District was buoyed not only by voting in the 7th District race, but also a special election to fill an empty seat on the Board of Supervisors, in which Republican Dan Schmitt defeated Democrat Danny Plaugher.
In addition to the two precincts that extended voting in Chesterfield, there was a 45-minute delay earlier in the day at the polling location at Salisbury Presbyterian Church. Tyler, the country registrar, said the delay was caused by problems with electronic thumb drives that contained voter lists that are used to check people in before they cast ballots. New thumb drives were provided to the workers, and the voting was allowed to proceed, she said.
Henrico faced an unusual voting glitch with its optical scanners at two polling places because of the rainy weather.
Voters in wet rain gear dripped water onto the paper ballots, which swelled and gummed up the scanners, Coakley said. “The moisture on the ballots was just like glue in those machines. We had never experienced anything like that since we went to optical scanners” three years ago.
Richmond also experienced problems with optical scanners “sporadically around the city,” Registrar Kirk Showalter said, but the problem was the machines’ settings, not the rain.
State Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said his department expects those kinds of problems to be “addressed properly” and “in every single instance, they had been addressed properly.”
Piper made no predictions on voter turnout except “we’re seeing more voters than we were in 2014,” the last midterm election, when statewide turnout reached 42 percent.
“The absentee numbers we’ve seen, we’re seeing at the polls as well,” said Piper, noting that absentee voting had already surpassed the total in 2014 by 140 percent.
In Richmond, the mail-in absentee voting had already surpassed the total for last year’s gubernatorial election with more than two hours to go. In Henrico, absentee voting by both mail and in-person had reached 10,500 ballots by 5 p.m., compared with an average of about 4,000 in previous elections.
“It blew them away,” Coakley said.