Voting has begun in the 2021 election, a collection of races that political prognosticators will be watching for clues about the themes that could define the pivotal 2022 midterm.
Voters will choose new governors in Virginia and New Jersey, new congressional representatives in two Ohio districts and new mayors in some of the nation’s largest cities.
Early voting has been going on for weeks in some states. Polls opened at 6 a.m. in Virginia, and reports out of Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley, at least, indicated high turnout.
The results will be dissected for any inkling of what they can tell us about 2022, when Republicans will try to retake control of Congress from the slim Democratic majority.
Democrats have an eight-seat advantage in the House, and control the split Senate. All 435 seats in the House will be up for election in 2022 along with 34 seats in the Senate.
FAIRFAX, Va. — First-time voter Vivienne Branson and her mother, Claire, a public schoolteacher from Fairfax, cast their votes for the Democratic ticket at Fairfax Government Center.
If Republicans take hold of the governorship, the Bransons would want to leave their home state of Virginia.
“He’s like a mini-Trump,” Vivienne said of GOP gubernatorial nominee Glen Youngkin. “I’m not doing that again.” Her mother, too, is “terrified of the prospect of having someone else like Trump in power” in Virginia.
“As a mother with daughters,” Claire said, “it’s important for me that they maintain their right to choose their reproductive path.” And for her children, she also wants to “follow the progressive agenda” toward renewable resources and climate change action.
These issues keep getting pushed aside, Claire said, and they’re not “anything I’ve ever heard anyone who’s conservative mention.”
The Bransons acknowledged that Youngkin has promised to support teachers and families, but Claire called this messaging “off-putting” and the “pandering” of a “tiny Trump.”
Claire worries that Youngkin is too detached to take care of his constituents. “I don’t think that someone who is a millionaire from Great Falls knows what the average working person goes through. I don’t think he would look out for us.”
— Julia Mueller
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia – Elections officials at Hugh Mercer Elementary School are preparing to request a third stack of additional ballots from the General Registrar’s Office after voter turnout exceeded their expectations.
Chief Election Officer Scott Vezina, 39, said he has seen a steady stream of voters all day, averaging 128 people per hour. His polling location was allotted 800 ballots Tuesday morning, which he deemed “a major underestimate.”
Vezina called the General Registrar’s Office at 8:30 a.m. to request 200 additional ballots and called again at 11:30 a.m. for 500 more. He said he will likely place a third request in the late afternoon, to account for an anticipated rush of commuters returning home from work.
“One of the electoral board members came here to see how things were going, and when I told her our numbers, they were like, ‘holy crap, you guys are just killing it,’” Vezina said. “And I was like, yeah, we’re pretty busy today. I’m surprised.”
Vezina projects his precinct will log upwards of 1,700 votes by the time polls close at 7 p.m.
Fredericksburg’s 101st Precinct has more registered voters than any other precinct in the city, according to the registrar’s office, but volunteer Kenneth Gantt, 61, said he was surprised to see similar voter turnout to what he observed in the 2020 presidential election.
The Army veteran, who has volunteered at the polls in Fredericksburg for the last three election cycles, said voters in his community are typically elderly and tend to favor Republicans, like gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin.
“The folks who really care about the issues, they always come out to vote,” Gantt said. “Where the influx comes is folks who have a real interest in some of the key issues of the governor’s race – the economy and our schools and the children.”
— Hannah Schoenbaum
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia – Recent challenges to abortion access at the Supreme Court have placed women’s rights at center stage in the Virginia gubernatorial race, according to voters at Hugh Mercer Elementary School.
Sarah Morealli, a faculty member at the University of Maryland, said that climate change and women’s rights were the most prominent issues for her during this election cycle.
Morealli, a registered Democrat, said that although she found it unlikely that a Texas-style law would be implemented in Virginia, it is an issue of high concern, especially given the controversial Texas abortion legislation.
The Texas law prohibits abortion after cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, which usually occurs around six weeks – a period before some women know they are pregnant. The law does not make exceptions for rape or incest.
“While I don’t think it’s likely that it will happen in Virginia, it is something I am concerned about and would like to make sure doesn’t happen in Virginia,” Morealli said.
While Democrat Terry McAuliffe has vowed to uphold access to abortion in the state, Republican Glenn Youngkin opposes abortion except in instances of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant individual.
Youngkin told liberal activists posing as anti-abortion advocates at a July gathering that if elected, “we can start going on offense.”
— Catherine Buchaniec
There’s no Presidential race or Senate seats up for grabs, but the 2021 election has a number of issues across the country that could have potentially important policy implications.
Here are some of themes to watch for Tuesday’s voting:
1. Police Reform
According to Ballotpedia, voters in Albany, New York; Austin, Bellingham, Washington; Denver, Minneapolis, and Cleveland will decide police policy measures. Perhaps most notable is in Minneapolis where voters will decide whether to erase their police department from the Minneapolis charter and create a new Department of Public Safety focused on mental health, civilian wellbeing and social services.
The vote comes more than a year after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and continued frustration over a lack of progress in department reform.
— Nina Mandell
President Joe Biden on Tuesday predicted Democrat Terry McAuliffe will defeat Republican GlenYoungkin in the high-stakes Virginia’s governor’s race and rejected the notion that the close contest is a rebuke of his presidency.
“We’re going to win,” Biden said when asked about the election during a press conference in Glasgow, where he concluded his participation at the United Nations’ COP26 climate summit. “I think we’re going to win Virginia.”
Polling for weeks has shown Youngkin gaining momentum in a state Biden carried by 10 percentage points in the 2020 election as Biden’s approval rating has slipped in Virginia and nationally. Biden campaigned for McAuliffe in Arlington, Va. last week.
“We all knew from the beginning this could be a tight race,” Biden said, downplaying the impact his presidency and inability to pass his domestic spending agenda has played. “Even if we had passed my agenda, I wouldn’t claim we won because Biden’s agenda’s passed.”
He added: “I think it’s I think it’s going to be very close. I think it’s going to get down to, as you all know, turnout.”
— Joey Garrison
FAIRFAX, Va. — Mary Wagner, a retired public schoolteacher from Fairfax, was raised Republican — but today she’s handing out sample ballots at the Democratic booth outside the Fairfax Government Center, “hoping and praying” that Terry McAuliffe (D) will win out over Glenn Youngkin (R) in the state’s gubernatorial race.
“I taught in the public schools for 39 years, and education is extremely important to me,” said Wagner on what pushed her away from the Republican party. “If anybody is a good governor for this state for education, it would be Terry McAuliffe.”
Youngkin, on the other hand, “would like to take money and give it to the private schools, and make charter schools. And McAuliffe knows better than that.”
Wagner is also wary of Youngkin’s affiliation with former President Donald Trump, and stories she’s heard of Youngkin promising to let Trump have a hand in governing Virginia.
“That’s just awful. I want no part of the Republican party like that,” Wagner said. “No part of it.”
— Julia Mueller
FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia — For some voters outside of Hugh Mercer Elementary School on Election Day, which gubernatorial hopeful gets their vote comes down to education.
Caryn Vezina, 38, voted for Republican Glenn Youngkin. She said she likes his education politics and wants Virginia to go in another direction.
Vezina said Youngkin appeals to her experience as a mother and a preschool teacher.
“It didn’t make me happy that McAuliffe said that, you know, parents shouldn’t be involved with their children’s education,” Vezina said.
Vezina was referencing a statement Democrat Terry McAulliffe made in a gubernatorial debate on Sept. 29: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”
Lawyer Shana Gertner, 42, cast her vote for the Democrat. She said she cares about access to education and wants to keep the state blue.
“My child is in private school, but I do care about public school and I do feel as though a lot of parents don’t really grasp the issues,” Gertner said.
— Isabel Miller
STAFFORD, Va. — On a rainy Tuesday at H.H. Poole Middle School, voters expressed opposing sentiments on how views toward President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump will affect today’s elections.
Kayla Thrasher, a 23-year-old student and assistant manager at Weis Markets, is a Democrat who describes herself as “very liberal.” She equated voting for Glenn Youngkin with voting for Trump.
“I’m not completely happy with how Biden is running the country right now, but I’m definitely 100% against Trump, so I’m kind of just voting against him,” Thrasher said, explaining her vote for former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
However, some Republican voters criticized the role that Trump and Biden have played in local elections.
“The role that that’s playing in the [political] game right now is actually, I think, getting a little old,” said Michelle Merritt, a Republican, 38, who works as a realtor.
Merritt pointed to the McAuliffe ads that target those who oppose Trump, saying they wrongfully assume an association between local and presidential elections.
“I don’t think people are coming out today to vote for one [candidate] or the other because of the hatred of another candidate,” Merritt said. “I think they’re voting on their own opinion and making their own opinion based on just that candidate, not the hatred or the love of another candidate.”
— Courtney Degen
Virginia voters will elect the first woman of color to statewide office on Tuesday when they cast their ballots in the race for lieutenant governor.
Democrat Hala Ayala is competing against Republican Winsome Sears to become one of the nation’s four Black female lieutenant governors. No state has ever elected a Black woman to its highest office.
“I think folks are excited about the history but they’re more excited to put a proven leader and someone who has actually been able to get things done in that position,” said Keauna Gregory, political director of Black to the Future Action Fund.
Read the whole story here:Hala Ayala vs. Winsome Sears: Virginia’s next lieutenant governor will make history
— Chelsey Cox and Mabinty Quarshie
Voters who identified as Democrats and Republicans said they were concerned about wages — an issue that both Terry McAuliffe and Glenn Youngkin have said they would address if elected.
Debbie Johnson, 56, voted for Youngkin after the candidate promised to increase pay for teachers. As Johnson’s daughter is a teacher, she said she feels strongly about the issue.
“I think teachers need to get paid more. I think increasing standards is important in schools,” she said.
Danny Lopez, 51, voted for McAuliffe as a result of the Democrats’ stance on paid family leave. “[It] is something that I’m kind of most interested in. I want him to win,” Lopez said.”
Another voter, Alex Fleche, 39, tied the issue of wages back to the pandemic and said, “I want to see the middle class built back up and people being able to have an opportunity to have a living wage.”
Fleche said he is a “Democratic supporter across the board,” and remains optimistic about the outcome of today’s election.
— Allison Novelo and Annie Klingenberg
RICHMOND, Virginia – Education dominated concerns among voters outside the Richmond Public Library’s main branch in Henrico County.
“I think if teachers were to be fully respected — as politicians all say they should be — then they are in charge of children’s health and well-being and curriculum,” said Patti Wright, 69, of Richmond. “I am a little worried about that with this election.”
Wright, a retired schoolteacher, said she hopes people “will vote respectfully.”
Parental concerns over closures, mask mandates and so-called bias against white people in school curriculums pushed education issues to center stage in the gubernatorial race.
In their final campaign rallies ahead of Tuesday’s election, both Terry McAuliffe and Glen Youngkin discussed education.
McAuliffe on Sunday called for greater teacher diversity across the commonwealth. “We’ve got to diversify our teacher base here in Virginia,” the Democrat said at a rally in Charlottesville. He also promised to create a program to attract teachers of color, should he win the election.
Youngkin on Monday reaffirmed that he will “ban critical race theory in our schools,” despite an absence of material covering how racism operates in U.S. laws and society in the state’s K-12 curriculum.
“What we won’t do is teach our children to view everything through a lens of race, where we divide them into buckets and one group is an oppressor and the other is a victim and we pit them against each other and we steal their dreams,” Youngkin said to a crowd of several thousand in Loudoun County.
Youngkin’s line of thinking mirrrored a concern of 22-year-old Virginia Commonwealth University medical student Douglas Hogan when casting his vote.
“Specifically, not teaching critical race theory, things like that, in our schools,” Hogan said. “Teaching kids to think for themselves, not based on their race.”
For Whitney Tidwell, 33, of Richmond, the election gave her an opportunity for a different kind of education: to teach her young son about the electoral process.
“We’ve been talking about voting and choosing who represents our community, the values, so to show him that process and to talk to him about how we vote for people that we want to represent our community,” said Tidwell, who is Black.
– Cristobella Durrette, Medill
LOUDOUN COUNTY, Virginia – “We gave raises to the teachers for the first time in more than a decade,” said Wendy Gooditis outside the Ida Lee Park Recreation Center in Leesburg.
Gooditis, a Democrat, is up for reelection as the delegate for the 10th District of the Virginia House.
Education has been a hot button topic among Virginia voters. Gooditis, a former teacher, said she and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe are “committed to doing more for teachers.”
Outside the polling center in Leesburg on a drizzly Tuesday morning, Gooditis greeted voters after they cast their ballots and thanked poll workers.
This was one of a host of stops throughout her district, where she said she plans on discussing education and COVID-19 misinformation with constituents.
“(If) some percent of the population is being told stuff that just isn’t true, that’s not a referendum on the policy. It’s basically a referendum on who’s believing the lies, because there’s so many lies out there,” Gooditis said.
– Andrew Marquardt and Jonathan Lehrfeld, Medill
Ohio’s 15th congressional district could be another litmus test for the endorsement of the two major political party leaders.
President Joe Biden jumped into the district’s special election with an eleventh-hour endorsement of Democratic state Rep. Allison Russo on Monday. Former President Donald Trump already had backed Republican Mike Carey, a coal lobbyist.
The two candidates are running in a district that favors the GOP to replace former Rep. Steve Stivers, a Republican who resigned to take a job in the private sector.
Carey also has gotten a boost from national Republican groups and a campaign visit from former Vice President Mike Pence, according to The Columbus Dispatch.
– Rick Rouan
At one precinct in Augusta County, Virginia, chief election officer Lesley Piner said she had to ask the county for more ballots before lunchtime, having run out by 11 a.m.
Piner said the county only gave the precinct about 300 ballots for the day. They had surpassed that before noon.
“We’ve been very steady … more than I expected,” she said.
About 50 people in the precinct opted to vote early and more than 300 out of a total of 1,000 registered voters had voted in the morning — a number that shocked Piner.
“Normally, I would have thought we’d have 350 people for the entire day,” she said. “We’re going to surpass that, and it’s not even noon.”
Virginia’s polls close at 7 p.m.
– Laura Peters, Staunton News-Leader
ATLANTA — Former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed is trying to return for a third term and City Council President Felicia Moore is seeking to move up to the top spot as voting concludes Tuesday in the city’s mayoral race.
Confronting rising crime has been a major focus, but candidates have also addressed concerns about affordable housing, bolstering struggling city services and keeping the wealthy Buckhead neighborhood from seceding. Attacks on Reed over corruption in his administration have been a major subplot, although Reed says the federal investigation regarding him was closed without charges.
With a total of 14 candidates in the nonpartisan race, a Nov. 30 runoff is likely. Other top candidates include attorney Sharon Gay and council members Andre Dickens and Antonio Brown, with large numbers of voters undecided.
Meanwhile, Republicans are watching for any mistakes in Atlanta that could justify a state takeover of elections in heavily Democratic Fulton County, under a sweeping new state law approved amid unproven claims of fraud by former President Donald Trump and his allies.
The race was jolted when Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced in May that she wouldn’t seek a second term. Bottoms broke a decades-long tradition of mayors serving eight years, saying she wasn’t interested in a reelection bid. The last Atlanta mayor who served only a single term was Sam Massell, who lost to Maynard Jackson in 1973 as African Americans took power in city government.
– Associated Press
Voters with disabilities are enjoying a new era of political relevance this Election Day thanks to the COVID pandemic — both the reforms it spurred and the inequities it laid bare.
People with disabilities showed “large gains” in 2020’s voter turnout, said Steve Flamisch of Rutgers University’s Program for Disability Research, referring to a report by the university and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.
Turnout rose to 17.7 million, up from 16 million in 2016, thanks to mail-in ballots and other initiatives, according to the group, which looked at national data.
– Gene Myers, NorthJersey.com
Eric Adams, a Democrat who is considered the frontrunner to win New York’s mayoral election, would be the second Black mayor in the city’s history if he is elected on Tuesday.
Adams is running against Republican Curtis Sliwa as the top elected official in America’s most populous city. Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York 7-to-1.
Adams is a former police captain and state senator. Sliwa founded a subway safety patrol group.
– Rick Rouan
Election Day is the first test for some of the hundreds of new voting laws adopted in the year since the 2020 election.
USA TODAY analyzed 254 new laws in 45 states passed since voters cast their ballots last year in the highest turnout election in American history. The analysis reveals changes, seen and unseen, to how we vote.
Those laws include changes to the number of days available for early voting and the hours available to cast ballots on Election Day.
In Boston, the contest between city council members Annissa Essaibi George and Michelle Wu means whomever wins will become the city’s first woman and first person of color elected mayor.
The candidates, both Democrats in a nonpartisan race, have chiefly clashed over issues such as affordable housing, public education and transportation. But differences on policing and crime have also emerged.
Wu, daughter of Taiwanese immigrants and a protégé of liberal Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has called for major police reforms. Before she was a candidate, Wu joined other city council members in calling for a 10% cut to the police department’s budget.
Essaibi George, who describes herself as Polish-Arab American, has opposed reallocating the money and has called for hiring several hundred more police officers. She was endorsed by former Boston police Commissioner William Gross.
– Associated Press
Eleven Democrats, two Republicans and a handful of other candidates are running in the southern Florida district.
The special general election is scheduled for Jan. 11.
– Rick Rouan
While the Virginia governor’s race has been getting much of the national attention in the runup to Election Day, some other elections also could tell us more about what to expect in the 2022 midterm election.
Tigher-than-expected races for New Jersey governor and Ohio’s 15th congressional district could drop some hints about which way the political weather vane is pointing in 2022. Democrats will be trying to cling to their slim majority in the House next year.