‘The turnout for today’s primary is very low’: Bristol, Va. election officials say rise in early and absentee votes could be to blame

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BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — It’s primary election day for Democrats in Virginia as they choose which candidates will represent the party in November’s general election. The races drawing the most interest are the races for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, former Del. Jennifer Carrol Foy, Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax and Del. Lee Carter are hoping to take the spot for governor of the commonwealth.

De. Jay Jones is running against incumbent Mark Herring for attorney general. Six candidates are running for lieutenant governor.

While there are three of the highest seats in the state up for election in November, the director of elections for the city of Bristol says Tuesday’s primary is one of the lowest turnouts she has seen.

“We’ve only had about a 1.5% turnout so far. Two-thirds of the people have voted either early or by an absentee mail ballot,” said Penny Limburg, the director of elections and general registrar for the City of Bristol. “The turnout for today’s primary is very low actually maybe a little less than what I anticipated compared to the statistics that we had from 2017 which was a similar type primary election.”

Although she expects lower turnout for primaries in a non-presidential election year, Limberg is still surprised that more people didn’t come out.

“Ironically November was the highest turnout we had seen and most localities across Virginia were the same way. Typically in a primary, you don’t see the same amount of interest from voters,” Limberg said. “I felt like we had possibly a little more interest. We had a Democratic debate that was held here and some of the candidates actually came to Southwest Virginia.”

Republicans made their picks back in May in a convention, unlike the 2017 primary where both were together.

“It’s been kind of a steady, slow, stream. There were a few more people at lunchtime but we had somebody right in at 6 o’clock,” said John Warner, the assistant chief for the Virginia High School voting precinct. “And I suspect we will have more people up until 7 o’clock when we close the polls.”

Warner’s precinct saw the most voters in the area with about 70 people voting before 5 p.m. He says a rise in absentee and early voting could be to blame for low turnout on a primary day.

“It makes things easier for people to vote with the no excuse absentee voting and the early voting by person,” Warner said. “It’s not a bad thing. I think overall we’re going to see a good turn out and the people that have come in have been excited about voting and that’s what it’s all about.”

The few voters out Tuesday say they hope people come out to let their voices be heard.

“It’s Democratic and I feel a lot of people feel it’s a ”shoo-in’ for some of the candidates. I wish more people would come out. Voting is important, we need never take it for granted,” said Bristol voter Paul Konco. “Some people feel that they need to restrict voting. I don’t think so. I think we need to encourage as many people to vote as possible.”

Another voter said she wasn’t sure people knew about the primary.

“I got a lot of information through the mail that informed me of today’s voting. But, I have been looking forward to this day,” said voter Geneva Brown. “There’s a large turnaround in our government at this time and so I hope they realize that we need for them to come out to choose someone that they think would make a difference.”

Polls will close at 7 p.m. Election results will be posted on WJHL.com.

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