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(WASHINGTON) — With only a few days until the start of early voting in Virginia’s high-stakes election, Republicans and Democrats are making one last push to encourage early and absentee voting in the commonwealth.
Every seat in both the House of Delegates and state Senate are up for grabs this fall — a total of 140 General Assembly seats, and this week, the parties and candidates are hosting multiple events across Virginia ahead of the first day of early voting on Friday, Sept. 22.
“What’s clear is that this will be an immensely expensive and hard-fought campaign,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a political analyst at the University of Mary Washington.
In July, Virginia Democrats announced an initiative they hope will drive turnout ahead of the Nov. 7 election: “The Majority Project,” a coordinated early-voting campaign that includes at least 100 paid organizers fanned out across the commonwealth.
“[It] is an unprecedented coordinated effort, utilizing every available medium to drive absentee and early voting for the 2023 state legislative elections,” according to a news release from Virginia Democrats.
The same month, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced a similar initiative called “Secure Your Vote Virginia,” aimed at encouraging Republicans to register for absentee ballots and vote early. A bus tour promoting the initiative began in early September.
Ahead of the early voting start later this week, the bus tour will make nine stops “all the way from Northern Virginia down to Richmond and down to Hampton Roads,” said Dave Rexrode, Youngkin’s political adviser and chairman of his PAC, Spirit of Virginia.
Rexrode said Republican turnout has been lower than Democratic turnout in previous elections, but he said he believes if more people vote, Virginia Republicans have a better chance to maintain the House and flip the Democrat-controlled Senate.
While Virginia voters don’t register by party, voting history analysis has shown Democrats have tended to dominate the early voting numbers in recent years.
“Part of our effort is to ensure that folks understand what’s at stake and what the choices that they have this year are and then ensure that they turn up and vote whether by mail early in person or on Election Day,” Rexrode said.
This election is particularly consequential as it will determine party control of the currently divided Legislature for the final two years of Youngkin’s term.
Political experts told ABC News that in 2020, former President Donald Trump discouraged Republicans from early voting alleging the potential for voter fraud. And now, experts say, Republicans are in a “challenging place.”
“You can either continue with the Trump angle of early and mail voting provides the potential for fraud, or you can risk angering Trump’s supporters who are all-in on the fraud angle,” said Dr. Chapman Rackaway, a professor and Chair of Political Science at Radford University.”
Youngkin won in 2021 by “being a very strategically deft candidate,” Rackaway said.
“[He] likely sees the writing on the wall that discouraging GOP early voting is a long-term path to failure,” Rackaway told ABC News. “Hence the ‘Secure the Vote Virginia’ initiative.”
“There is a growing sense among political professionals that early voting/mail voting is a trend that will carry on into the future,” he added. “So you can either embrace it or prepare to fail.”
Farnsworth said Republicans around the country and working to harness the power of early voting.
“Virginia Republicans have learned what a lot of national Republicans are still trying to figure out,” Farnsworth told ABC News. “Opposing early voting is the equivalent of unilateral disarmament in elections.”
Democrats in Virginia say the move by Republicans in the commonwealth to embrace early voting is “not surprising.”
“For three years, the Republicans have been behind on early voting and they know it,” Morgan Hopkins, the communications director for the Virginia House Democratic Caucus, told ABC News.
Farnsworth told ABC News that because the elections are in an off-year — one in which a presidential or midterm election does not also take place — “this is the cycle where you have to work hard to get people to turn out.”
“It’s less about winning over swing voters,” Farnsworth said. “It’s more about making sure that your side is energized, be that through anger or through fear, to actually show up and vote.”
And with early voting, Farnsworth said, “the more you can get your voters to cast their ballots ahead of time, the more you can focus on those people who haven’t yet voted in the run up to Election Day.”
The last day Virginians can vote early in-person is Nov. 4.
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