Arlington is likely to provide a number of satellite centers for early voting in the 2021 general election – but how many there will be, and where they will be located, remain open questions.
“Early voting is here to stay,” predicted county elections chief Gretchen Reinemeyer, briefing Electoral Board members during a Dec. 16 meeting.
And while 2020 may prove an aberration because of public-health conditions, the data certainly bear out that likelihood. Of just over 131,000 Arlington residents casting ballots, 46 percent voted early at in-person sites, 37 percent cast ballots by mail and only 17 percent voted at their regular polling places on Nov. 3.
Anticipating a flood of early voters for the 2020 general election, Arlington officials set up four early-voting satellite centers, located at the Langston-Brown, Madison, Aurora Hills and Walter Reed community centers. They were open from Oct. 17-31 to augment the traditional in-person-absentee voting location in the Courthouse area.
A total of 32,000 voters visited the four satellite centers, compared to 24,800 using the Courthouse location (which had been open Sept. 18-Oct. 16).
Nobody expects turnout for the 2021 general election, which is highlighted by a race for governor, to approach the total of 2020. So the question is: Should the number of early-voting satellites be trimmed?
“I would be OK with reducing from five sites to three,” said Reinemeyer, citing both the lower expected turnout, (hopefully) better public-health conditions and cost.
“It’s really expensive to keep these open,” she said.
The prospect of three sites – Courthouse Plaza, one in North Arlington and one in South Arlington – seemed to resonate.
Three “could be sufficient,” said Electoral Board secretary Scott McGeary. “Five I don’t think is necessary.”
The final say both on locations and funding will rest with the County Board.
As for locations, the Walter Reed site is probably safe for a reprise in 2021, as it had the highest turnout among the four satellite centers and is strategically positioned in South Arlington.
The Aurora Hills Center is close to Pentagon City and Crystal City voters, but ran third behind Walter Reed and Langston-Brown in total votes cast.
Langston-Brown itself may be unavailable if students who are taught in the building are back in class next November, which would leave Madison Community Center in upper North Arlington as a possibility even though it saw the lowest turnout of the four satellite centers. Election officials also could look into using the new Lubber Run Community Center, which while completed has not yet opened as the county government attempts to trim its spending.
The good news for election officials is that there is plenty of time to mull options.
“We’re going to do a lot of the homework . . . but ultimately this is the County Board’s decision,” Electoral Board vice chairman Matt Weinstein said.
Before 2020, Arlington election officials provided two satellite-early-voting centers during presidential-election years, but for other years, all in-person early voting took place in the Courthouse area.
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