County voters exercise civic duty in impressive numbers
Staggering 4,986 ballots — 2,143 absentee — cast in 2020 election
An eye-opening 84 percent of registered voters in Rappahannock County let their voices be heard in a most unique 2020 General Election, dropping at the same time an unprecedented number of absentee ballots onto Courthouse Row.
“Four-thousand, nine-hundred, eighty-six votes were counted and we currently have 5,960 registered voters,” Kim McKiernan, Rappahannock County Registrar, informs the Rappahannock News. “That is combined Election Day turnout, early-in-person voting and absentee-by-mail ballots.”
A record turnout of voters for Rappahannock County?
“To my knowledge, in my eight years, yes,” McKiernan answers.
In the previous November 2016 General Election, 503 fewer Rappahannock residents — 4,483 all told — cast ballots. In 2012, another presidential election year, the county voting tally was even lower, with 4,331 citizens going to the polls, with an almost identical number — 4,332 — voting in 2008. In 2004 the number was a smaller 4,050 — 936 fewer voters than this year.
What assuredly set a record in 2020 is the number of “absentee” ballots cast by Rappahannock residents: 2,143 voted absentee leading up to the Nov. 3 election, including 41 overseas and/or military voters.
Whatever their reasons — and in 2020 there was no shortage to choose from — more residents of Rappahannock County desired to vote in this year’s election.
“We’ve had, as of [Tuesday], 262 new voters register since June,” the registrar reveals.
All of this, mind you, before Election Day even dawned.
“Election Day went really well, especially considering all of the moving parts,” McKiernan reflects.
There were two instances in which supporters of the current president arrived at polling stations — Amissville and Flint Hill — proudly sporting Trump attire, yet the voters, initially at least, were denied entry by two confused precinct officials, one at each location.
Virginia code provides that no person who approaches or enters the polling place for the purpose of voting shall be prohibited “from wearing a shirt, hat, or other apparel on which a candidate's name or a political slogan appears or from having a sticker or button attached to his apparel on which a candidate's name or a political slogan appears.”
At the same time, the ability to openly display one’s political stripes “does not apply to candidates, representatives of candidates, or any other person who approaches or enters the polling place for any purpose other than voting,” wherein apparently was the confusion last Tuesday.
As a result, the county registrar is officially handling the pair of voter complaints.
“The written voter complaint completed by the Amissville voter has been forwarded to the Department of Elections,” confirms McKiernan. “The incident in Flint Hill was unknown to us until … about three days after Election Day.
“We always strive to address any issues brought to our attention at the polls immediately and in accordance with state law,” she adds.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 did not make an unparalleled election any easier, particularly as voters for weeks on end stepped inside the registrar’s office on Gay Street to cast in-person absentee ballots.
“It was extremely difficult especially because it included doing all of these things in a pandemic,” McKiernan notes. “We hired one extra staff person, Meg Flanagan. She deserves huge kudos as we couldn’t have done it without her. We also had other volunteers from the community that were a true godsend helping us get the initial voter requested over-700 absentee ballots in the mail by the deadline [of] Sept. 18, 2020.”
Otherwise, she says, it’s a “two-person office” — herself and Sheran Rigg.
“Rather than having staff for specific areas, like larger localities, the two of us do everything from testing and sealing the voting equipment, training election officials, processing ballots, processing registrations, leasing polling places, etc., all the way down to the marker you use to mark your ballot — we do it,” she says.
“This coming year doesn’t promise to be much easier with redistricting and at least two elections.”
For that matter, the Nov. 3 election is yet to be signed, sealed, delivered and accepted.
“We have been going over the results tapes for accuracy, manually logging them into the state database, processing provisional ballots and counting them,” the registrar says of post-election chores. “Yesterday [Monday] we certified the results and now we forward them to the state for approval.
“Frankly, there are a million things remaining to do. Like dismantling and storing the optical scanners from the ballot box bases — with truly appreciated assistance from Chris Ubben and Jasmine Kidwell-Weaver — upload voter credit from the poll books, not to mention now that registration is open we had 80-plus online registrations to process.”
The registrar’s office is also now required by law to send out annual applications to all Rappahannock voters by mid-December, as in four weeks from now.
As she mentions, the office “canvassed” the day after the election — reading the tapes numbers and comparing them to the tally sheets, entering all of the numbers in the state database (VERIS).
“The date and time of the canvass is posted in each polling place and on our door in accordance with FOIA laws. We had to wait until after noon on Friday to finish going over the votes/ballots because of the new deadline to accept late ballots. We combined the final canvassing with the provisional ballot meeting this past Friday.
“The local political committees are always informed in the event they want to observe,” McKiernan adds of the county’s Democrat and Republican wings.
“Every step of this election was observed by representatives of local political parties,” she stresses, “testing and sealing equipment, pre-processing absentee ballots, the last day of absentee voting [October 31], Election Day, canvassing, provisional ballot meeting. The electoral board signed the abstracts yesterday [Monday].”
And there’s much left to accomplish.
“Well meaning folks say, ‘I bet you’re glad this election is over,’ but it’s never really over and we’re never really ‘less busy,’ we’re simply working on other things. We start planning and preparing for the November Election in January,” says McKiernan.
“We continue to go through the supplies totes we set up for the election officials, the PPE [personal protective equipment] totes, all of the ballots/envelopes — at least six envelopes for each precinct containing counted ballots, reports, spoiled ballots, unused ballots, etc., get taken to the clerk’s office for mandatory storage in their vault.”
The registrar makes a point of thanking county residents Jan Makela, Diane Bruce, Anne Robertson, plus a long list of dedicated election officials who stepped forward and pre-processed nearly 800 ballots, not to forget electoral board members. Other volunteers she singles out include Keith Rowand, Chris Ubben, and Jasmine Kidwell-Weaver.
“So many kind gestures by so many folks really touched our hearts,” she concludes, “from food from a mystery lady, pastries from Arlington, Shari’s Berries (from my Mom), a divine cheesecake that gave us the sugar kick to keep going — not to mention its comfort food categories, and cheese balls from one of our biggest cheerleaders.”