There are many reasons for Democrat Aaron Rouse’s win last night in the special election to replace Jen Kiggans (R) in the State Senate, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked is the Virginia permanent absentee voter list.
This is an opt-in list of voters who choose to automatically receive mail ballots for every election, without having to complete a new absentee ballot application every time. It was passed in 2020 by Democrats, when they had unified control of the Governor’s office and the General Assembly, as part of a number of reforms to make voting easier.
Others have pointed out that the permanent absentee voter list was an important factor in Rouse’s win because it gave voters a reminder of the special election and an easy way to vote in the election. The early vote numbers make this clear. Mail ballots made up the majority of early votes in the special election compared to in-person early votes. This is a reversal from the midterm elections a couple months ago when in-person early votes outnumbered mail votes more than 2-1.
Given Democrats are much more likely to vote by mail, those on the permanent absentee voter list tend to be Democrats as opposed to Republicans.
The results in the special election show why this is so important. Surprisingly, Republican Kevin Adams narrowly won the in-person early vote, which is rare for a Republican in a competitive election in Virginia. However, Rouse overwhelmingly won the mail vote by almost a 3-1 margin. There were over 6,200 votes cast early this way compared to less than 4,500 cast early in-person.
The mail ballots gave Rouse an overall early vote lead of over 2,700 votes, and the final margin of victory is likely going to be around 500 votes. Adams was able to win the majority of Election Day votes, but he could not overcome Rouse’s early vote lead coming entirely from mail ballots.
If we dive even deeper into the mail ballots, the importance of the permanent absentee voter list becomes clearer. As of election night, 6,045 of the mail ballots came from the permanent absentee voter list, compared to just 232 who requested a mail ballot specifically for this election.
Going forward, it is important to understand the role of the permanent absentee ballot voter list in Virginia elections, and also how it can make the difference particularly in lower turnout elections such as special elections.