In Virginia, Early Voting Has an Impact. And a Long Run.

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If the race between Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate, and Glenn Youngkin, the Republican candidate, is extremely close, those late-arriving ballots, coupled with an expected increase in provisional ballots, could be pivotal. A winner may not be projected for up to a week.

“I think that’s the future of everybody’s elections the more we go to voting by mail as an option for voters,” said Scott O. Konopasek, the director of elections for Fairfax County, the largest county in Virginia. “If there’s any close races, we’re not going to know until after the Friday after the election.”

While the surge in early voting has exceeded the early turnout in 2016, the numbers this year have failed to keep up with 2020, in part because the Virginia election is an off-year race. Still, based on current early voting trends, overall turnout could top out around 2.6 million, roughly on par with the 2017 elections, according to Michael McDonald, a professor of politics at the University of Florida who studies voting.

So far, early vote totals in Virginia reflect more of a shift in behavior than a rise in turnout, as 90 percent of early voters in Virginia this year also voted early in the 2020 election, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic political data firm.

“Some people weren’t aware that they could vote by absentee ballot or vote early in 2020, because that was the first election that this law was changed, and now they just like doing it,” Mr. McDonald said.

Partisan models show Democrats continuing to outpace Republicans at a significant clip for early voting. But one of the voting blocs that has been a concern for the McAuliffe campaign has been the youth vote.

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