By Matt de Simone
Virginia spoke volumes last Tuesday as Glenn Youngkin (R) won the state’s gubernatorial election, defeating Terry McAuliffe (D). All eyes were on the Commonwealth leading experts to believe Youngkin’s victory will affect the country’s 2022 midterm elections next year.
Virginia’s “off-off year” statewide and legislative elections feature the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and 100 seats in the House of Delegates on the ballot. Turnout is usually relatively low, though the 2019 and 2017 elections saw turnout increase dramatically, leading to Democratic, unified control of state government in 2019 for the first time in a generation.
However, this year, with Democratic President Joe Biden in office after former Republican President Donald Trump, in a political environment generally perceived as unfriendly to Democrats at both the national and state levels, the elections were highly competitive—91 of 100 House seats were contested statewide.
Turnout was higher than in 2019 across the board, especially in Republican areas. Meanwhile, turnout was lower in traditionally Democratic places like Northern Virginia and crucial battleground suburbs like Chesterfield County and Virginia Beach. Suburban and independent voters favored Republican candidates in this year’s election.
Botetourt County Director of Elections and General Registrar Traci Clark described Election Day as “crazy busy.” The number of Botetourt voters compared to that of a turnout for a presidential election with 66% (just over 17,000 citizens) of Botetourt’s registered voters (out of almost 26,000) casting their choices. The percentage of voters includes Early Voting and Vote-By-Mail (just over 5,600 voters).
In Botetourt County, Youngkin won by a 50-point margin. The races for lieutenant governor (won by Winsome Sears – R) and Virginia’s attorney general (won by Jason Miyares – R) resulted in a similar margin of victory as the choice for governor.
Christopher Head (R) retained his seat in the House of Delegates, 17th District, and Terry Austin retained his in the 19th District with a victory over Wendy Rowden (D) and Dean Davison (I).
Education was not only a primary focus of the state’s gubernatorial election but also for Botetourt County’s School Board elections.
In Youngkin’s acceptance speech late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, the governor-elect stated, “We will invest the largest education budget in the history of the Commonwealth. We’re going to invest in teachers, new facilities, special education… introduce choice in our public school system—how about that? Choice in the public school system.
“We’re going to press forward with a curriculum that includes listening to parents’ input—a curriculum that allows our children to run as fast as they can, teaching (the students) how to think, enabling their dreams to soar. Friends, we are going to re-establish excellence in our schools.”
In the two races for the Botetourt County Public Schools (BCPS) School Board, Chairman Anna Weddle retained her seat in the Amsterdam District, taking just over 60% of the district’s votes, beating out write-in candidate Steve Dean.
Jenny Wilson won the open Buchanan seat with 66% of the votes, edging out write-in candidate Brandy Campbell.
The Amsterdam District saw a large turnout, with 800 more voters casting their ballots in comparison to the total number of voters in the district back in 2017.
“I’m so impressed that many more people decided to take action and exercise their right to vote in this election,” Weddle said in a recent statement. “So many Americans fought for us to have the right to vote, and I hope everyone who voted this year will continue to use this privilege annually.
“Little did I know when I ran in 2017 that I was about to embark on one of the most challenging times in history to serve on the School Board. However, the relationships I built and the momentum our school system is gaining have been worth it. As I reflect on the turbulence of the past 20 months, I see the resilience of our students. I know our staff is fully capable of addressing learning loss and mental health issues as we continue to navigate the pandemic, and I will continue to wholeheartedly support teachers and students.”
The rainy day didn’t prevent Buchanan District residents from casting their votes. Over 2,000 Buchanan citizens made their choice for their School Board representative.
“I was so happy about the turnout in our district despite the cold and rain,” Wilson said in a statement about winning the Buchanan District’s seat on the board. “I think when people feel passionate about issues such as our schools, it helps to bring them out to vote. Each person’s vote really does matter, and I am thankful for our district having confidence in my ability to strongly lead our school system toward great things.”
Wilson spent a lot of time campaigning door-to-door in Buchanan, knowing the community’s appreciation of having their voices heard. She plans to visit each school, meet with their respective principals, and hear the needs of each educational institution once she’s officially on the board.
“I respect (Campbell) and her campaign and hope that we will be able to work together to bring our community together for the greater good of our schools,” Wilson added. “I look forward to serving Botetourt County, its parents, children, and schools in this role.”
Still, with Botetourt’s impressive turnout, there was a bit of confusion in the Blue Ridge District, according to Clark. In March, the district saw changes in polling locations due to the closure of the old Colonial Elementary School, meaning the new school building was no longer in the Blue Ridge Precinct and now considered the Rainbow Forest Precinct. A public hearing at the March Board of Supervisors meeting saw the board make the changes.
Despite over 4,400 voter cards mailed out in the Blue Ridge Precinct—clearly stating the changes in polling locations—voters called the Registrar’s Pffice leading up to Election Day claiming they never received these cards.
The early voting turnout was pretty light compared to what Clark expected. Most Botetourt County voters decided to wait until Election Day to vote, having 4,613 early voters, not including mailed absentee ballots.
“A huge thanks goes to the 87 election officers who worked a super crazy day,” Clark mentioned. “They were busy or at least steady from the time the polls opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 7 p.m.”
For more info about the 2021 Virginia General Elections, visit results.elections.virginia.gov.
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