More than 1.3 million Virginians voted in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, breaking the record set 12 years ago when Barack Obama faced Hillary Clinton, according to unofficial results.
More than 23% of registered Virginians cast ballots Tuesday, surpassing the 14% rate in 2016 and the 20% rate the state saw in 2008. While 2008 and 2016 drew voters for Democratic and Republican primaries, Tuesday’s contest only featured Democrats.
Joe Biden, who won the state handily, received 75,000 more votes in the Virginia primary than Obama in 2008.
As of 11 a.m., more than 700 people had voted at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in South Richmond, where a precinct worker said voters had kept them “busy all day.”
At Woodland Heights Baptist Church, poll workers had counted about 250 voters by 9:30 a.m.
Charles Ware, a member of the Richmond Democratic Committee who lives across the street from the polling place, estimated turnout to be comparable to gubernatorial elections.
Ware sported buttons for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — who faced a resounding defeat to the former vice president when votes were counted — as he gave out sample ballots that showed the remaining candidates in the race, since official ballots still listed candidates who had withdrawn before Tuesday’s primary.
Twice as many Virginia voters cast absentee ballots compared to the March 2016 Democratic primary.
Analysis by VPAP shows that as of Monday, nearly 55,000 voters had cast absentee ballots, compared to a total of 26,000 in March 2016.
Roughly 70% of those votes were cast by people over the age of 41, according to VPAP.
Virginia’s primary kicked off Tuesday without significant issues at polling places, state elections officials said. Roanoke County and the city of Petersburg experienced power outages Tuesday, but “no voting was delayed as a result,” Virginia Elections Commissioner Chris Piper said.
“I’ve worked in Virginia elections on and off since 2003, but I will say, in all of those years, I have not experienced a more smooth election,” Piper added. “This is a real credit to the election officials out there in the field.”
Piper said that despite rumors of massive absences among poll workers due to COVID-19 concerns, the state did not receive messages from localities about shortages.
Piper said his agency encouraged localities to consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for information on the coronavirus outbreak, but that otherwise, there were “no major changes” to the process.
“We always encourage localities to take precautionary measures in terms of hygiene,” Piper said, like keeping hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes at the ready.
Staff writers Michael Martz and Karri Peifer contributed to this report.