BY SARAH RANKIN
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Early voting started Friday in Virginia’s costly, high-stakes and closely watched legislative elections after a week in which elected officials and candidates rallied their supporters across the state.
All 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot, with candidates running for the first time in an environment shaken up by maps overhauled in the most recent once-a-decade redistricting process.
With the Legislature narrowly divided, both parties say they see a path to a full statehouse majority running through a little more than a dozen battleground districts centered in central Virginia, Hampton Roads and the outer Washington suburbs.
“At the heart of this is holding our House and flipping our Senate,” Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin told supporters in Petersburg on Thursday afternoon, urging the crowd to vote early, donate and volunteer.
A GOP trifecta would clear the way for Youngkin to move swiftly on what he calls his “commonsense” conservative priorities — boosting pay and funding for law enforcement, protecting parental rights in education, overhauling the mental health system, and enacting additional tax cuts and greater restrictions on abortion.
While he has notched some successes on taxes and education through bipartisan support during his first two legislative sessions, many of his priorities have been blocked — with great fanfare — by the Democratic majority in the Senate, which prides itself on being a “brick wall” against Republicans’ agenda.
Democrats, who held news conferences around the state this week, warned that total Republican control would lead to the repeal of legislation enacted in 2020 and 2021 while they ran the state government, including measures that mandated a transition to cleaner cars and electric generation, greatly expanded voting access, and added restrictions to firearms purchases and ownership.
Many Democratic candidates are also making abortion rights a top campaign issue, arguing that Youngkin’s proposed ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the life of the mother, would endanger women’s health and infringe on their bodily autonomy. Virginia is the only state in the South that has not enacted any new restrictions since Roe v. Wade fell.
Locally, Northampton County Voter Registrar reports 23 votes cast as of 4 p.m. on Monday. In Accomack, Voter Registrar Angel Shrieves reported “on the first day of Early Voting (Friday, Sept. 22, 2023) we had 224 voters. Today, (Monday, Sept. 25, 2023), we had 77. Friday was very busy, today it was just steady traffic in the office, not as heavy as Friday was.”