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Will Higher Interest Lead to Higher Turnout on Election Day?

It’s election season, but many voters are not tuned into their local races for House of Delegates and state Senate.

Four years ago, when Virginia had no statewide races and every member of the General Assembly was up for election, about 30% of registered voters showed up to the polls and cast a ballot.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington predicts this year might be a little higher.

“Based on the number of candidates running in the Virginia mid-term this year as well as polls, including the Mary Washington statewide survey that shows a high level of voter interest in 2019," Farnsworth explains. "All indications are that this Virginia midterm will have much higher turnout than four years ago.”

When federal courts overturned several Republican-drawn districts because of racial gerrymandering, Democrats hoped the new maps might help them this November.

But Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says that’s not necessarily the case. 

“What we were looking at the partisan orientation of the new districts, what we were looking at was partisan orientation if turnout levels were at the presidential level, which is 60 plus percent in Virginia," Kidd says. "Well that’s not what turnout level is going to be this year.”

Election officials always look to similar elections as a good prediction of how many people might show up to the polls. Four years ago, turnout was 30%. Four years before that it was also 30%, and four years before that, it was 30%. That has been a pretty consistent number going back decades.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.