There’s been a fair amount of criticism – particularly by Ben “Not Larry Sabato” Tribbett and Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report – of Fairfax County’s government for having only one early voting location open in that enormous county (1.15 million people, 406 square miles) since early voting began on September 18. For instance, as Wasserman tweeted on October 4, Fairfax County had seen fewer early/in-person voters than either Prince William County or Loudoun County, even though Fairfax County “has more than twice the registered voters…all b/c it can’t speed up its line.” That was a week ago; where are we now?
First, here are the latest early voting numbers from Fairfax County, courtesy of VPAP. So at this point, we’ve had 84,525 mail ballots returned in Fairfax County and 22,012 in-person early votes (total: 106,537). As you can see from the graphic, below, the daily numbers haven’t particularly increased over time since early voting started on 9/18. Thus, Fairfax had 1,207 in-person votes cast back on 9/18; 1,172 in-person votes case on 9/30; and 1,235 in-person votes cast on 10/10. That’s basically no change, in other words, in daily rates of in-person/early voting in Fairfax County the past three weeks. Which probably shouldn’t be surprising, given that throughout the entire three-week period, the only place you’ve been able to drop off your ballot in Fairfax County has been the (highlty inconvenient for most people) Fairfax County Government Center. As for voting by mail, Fairfax County has seen as many as 8,544 in a single day (on 9/30), with 4,764 received on 10/9 and 4,723 on 10/10. Combined, the highest daily total was 9,736 on 9/28, with the latest being 5,958 on 10/10.
How does this compare to the Commonwealth as a whole and to other Virginia jurisdictions? See below the Fairfax County graphic for more on that…
First off, here’s Virginia as a whole: 531,942 in-person ballots and 441,552 mail ballots received so far, which totals to 973,494 early votes cast so far in Virginia. Based on Fairfax County’s population (1.15 million) making up about 14% of Virginia’s population, you’d expect that Fairfax County would have cast at least 130k or so votes so far, yet it’s only at 107k. Of course, given that Fairfax County is heavily Democratic, and given that Democrats have been voting early at much higher rates than Republicans, you’d expect Fairfax County’s early vote to be even *higher* than 130k. So yes, it really does seem like Fairfax County is underperforming relative to the rest of Virginia, and by a fairly substantial margin at that. Also note that specifically re: in-person voting, Fairfax is at a miniscule 4% of Virginia overall (22,012 out of 531,942), which is *wildly* low compared to Fairfax’s population (again, it makes up a whopping 14% of the state’s population) and Democratic lean (given that Democrats have been voting early in droves across the country). And that, in turn, can really only be attributable to there only being one place to drop in your absentee ballot in Fairfax County – at the Government Center – the past few weeks. Hopefully, that will change dramatically starting this week, as Fairfax County opens up 13 “satellite” locations plus the Government Center for early voting on Wednesday. But really, given the COVID-19 pandemic and the highly unusual concerns about this election as a result of Trump’s voter suppression and delegitimization efforts, Fairfax County should never have treated this election as normal, and should have done whatever it took to open up more early voting centers, as all of this was foreseeable and avoidable.
Let’s look at a few neighboring jurisdictions to Fairfax County to see how they’re doing. First, Prince William County (population 470k, area 348 square miles) is at 351.1 early votes/mail-in applications per 1,000 registered voters, with 25,840 by mail and 34,834 early votes cast in person (total: 60,674). In comparison, Fairfax County – with about 2.4 times the population of Prince William County – is at 84,525 by mail (3.3x higher than Prince William County) and 22,012 in-person/early votes (about 1/3 lower than Prince William County). In total, Prince William County has had 60,674 early votes, or 57% of the 106,537 early votes in Fairfax County, which gives it a higher rate of early votes/mail-in application (351.1 per 1,000 registered voters) compared to Fairfax County (326.3 early votes/mail-in application per 1,000 registered voters). So, Prince William County is seeing higher early voting rates than Fairfax County, driven by a huge lead in voting in-person in Prince William County compared to Fairfax County. Again, that brings us right back to the fact that Fairfax County has only had one voting site open the past few weeks…while Prince William County has had three in a county that’s slightly smaller geographically than Fairfax County.
Loudoun County (population 414k, area 521 square miles) has had 22,362 in-person/early votes cast so far, plus 31,067 by mail, for a total of 53,429 total early votes cast (an early voting/mail-in application of 353.2 per 1,000 registered voters). Loudoun County’s early voting/mail-in application rate is higher than Fairfax County’s (326.3 per 1,000 registered voters) and about the same as Prince William County’s (351.1 per 1,000 registered voters). Loudoun County is slightly ahead of Fairfax County in terms of early/in-person voting (22,362 vs. 22,012), despite having just 36% of Fairfax County’s population, and despite also having only one early voting site open so far (at the Office of Elections in Leesburg). In terms of voting by mail, Loudoun County (31,067) is at about 37% of Fairfax County (84,525), which is almost exactly what you’d expect based on their relative populations. Overall, Loudoun County’s had about half of Fairfax County’s early votes cast (53,429 vs. 106,537) so far, despite having just 36% of Fairfax County’s population.
Arlington County (population 237k, area 26 square miles) has seen 20,046 in-person/early votes cast so far, plus 23,016 by mail, for a total of 43,062 early votes cast, with an early voting/mail-in application rate of 435.6 per 1,000 registered voters. On that latter statistic, note that it’s significantly higher than Loudoun County (353.2 per 1,000 registered voters), Fairfax County (326.3 per 1,000 registered voters) or Prince William County (351.1 per 1,000 registered voters), presumably in part because Arlington is much more compact and densely populated than those other three. Note that Arlington County has had only one early voting site open so far, just like Fairfax County, but that Arlington is MUCH smaller geographically than Fairfax County, so it’s far, far easier for Arlington residents to get to Arlington’s early voting site than for Fairfax residents to get to *its* early voting site. So Arlington County has had nearly the same number of early/in-person votes cast as Fairfax County (20,046 vs. 22,012), despite Arlington having just 21% of Fairfax County’s population. In terms of voting by mail, Arlington’s 23,016 is 27% of Fairfax County’s 84,525, which is fairly close to what you’d expect given the population differentials. All in all, Arlington has cast 4.4% of Virginia’s early votes, with just 2.8% of Virginia’s population, so is definitely “punching above its weight” so far, whereas Fairfax County is “punching” considerably *below* its “weight” (having cast 10% of Virginia’s early votes, despite having 14% of Virginia’s population).