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OPINION: High voter turnout should be just the start

OPINION: High voter turnout should be just the start

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Talk about rocking the vote! Congratulations Powhatan County on a 71.43% voter turnout in the 2021 General Election.

When I started visiting polling precincts on Election Day 2021, the surprising turnout was the first thing every election official mentioned. They couldn’t exactly compare the turnout to what the county sees in an election year – the 2020 election was about 85% – but to so thoroughly blow the last gubernatorial election turnout out of the water (55% in 2017) was amazing.

And that is exactly the attitude I witnessed among poll workers – one of positive delight at this exceptional show of enthusiasm for one of our greatest rights as citizens to choose the men and women who will lead us. Even the polling officials who knew they had an even longer day ahead of them than usual because of the need to hand count nonscannable ballots (see full story on Page 3A) were still excited to see so many people wanting to make their voices heard.

They may have had their own wishes about seeing what the actual results of the different races would be, but the men and women I spoke with made it clear that the greatest value of each vote was that it was cast in the first place.

The attitudes I witnessed among voters represented a little more of a grab bag of emotions. In my observations and conversations on Nov. 2, I noted there were some people who were obviously bubbly and excited about voting, some who were stoic and focused, and some who were anxious and watchful.

There was a combination of relief to have the actual process of voting done and recognition of the hours-long wait to learn the results of those very races. There was trust of the voting process, mistrust of it and some who seemed halfway in between.

The sheer volume of voter turnout in this election shows how important it was to so many people either wanting to see a change in direction in the state or hoping to keep it on its current course. Regardless of where you fell in that scenario, I have a small question for you: What comes next?

While there is no denying that the results of this election will have far-reaching impacts on Virginia in the next four years, the 103 people elected to a state office – governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and 100 delegates – and the many other men and women who won victories in local elections are not the “final answer” to all the problems or challenges we as Virginians are facing. Yes, they will have a major influence on how these problems and challenges are approached and dealt with; the whole point of elections is that they do have an impact on our nation, our state and our local communities.

But while the extreme political polarization we have been experiencing for the last few years might be good for voter turnout, it is also extremely divisive and doesn’t generally make for good governance. We can’t as a country or as a state keep adopting the attitude of “when our people are in charge everything will be better.”

“We the People” have to stay involved between the elections and the campaigns at all levels of government regardless of who is in charge. Because the truth is, regardless of who is in charge, we all still live here and are impacted by how this country operates. We have to keep talking to our elected representatives and, more importantly, talking to each other.

At one point in this election process, I literally had a conversation with someone who was worried about making clear their political allegiance for fear their house might get burned down. This is obviously an extreme view, but the fact that the thought even crossed this person’s mind is extremely troubling to me and not, I hope, what the people of this county really want their neighbors to be feeling, even if they have different viewpoints.

Laura McFarland may be reached at


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