Election offices brace for unconventional primary season

By Brandon Martin

Henry County and Martinsville and residents have the opportunity to help elect officials to run in their respective 5th and 9th Congressional District general elections on June 23, with polls for the remaining Democratic House and Republican Senate primaries open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m.

A valid photo-ID is still required for the June primaries and all polling places will be accessible to voters with special needs. Curbside voting is available for individuals 65 and older or those who have a physical disability. A helper should accompany anyone wishing to do curbside voting in order to enter the polling place to notify the election officer.

Two precincts in Henry County are split between the 5th and 9th districts. All of the Mt. Olivet precinct (Mt. Olivet Ruritan Bldg.) is in the 5th District, except Cabell Street. Approximately 100 voters in the Dyers Store precinct (Dyers Store Fire Dept.) are in the 5th District.

The remaining five polling districts and are Axton (Axton Elementary School), Irisburg (Freedom Baptist Church), Mountain Valley (MVL Club), Mountain View (VFW Bldg.), and Ridgeway #1 (Ridgeway Library).

While all residents are encouraged to vote absentee due to the coronavirus, Henry County Registrar Elizabeth Stone said that turnout has been “very low” so far.

She said that her staff has mailed out 160 absentee ballots so far in this election cycle, but only about 50 have been returned. In addition and as of June 15, only 12 people had voted in the office.

“It’s low, but I don’t necessarily know if it’s because of the coronavirus,” she said. “The political parties requested this election, so it’s up to them to see that voters turn out. We just operate the election for them to ensure fairness.”

Stone said her office has received some funding to help with sanitation efforts at the polling booth. The funds were spent on face masks, disinfectants and disposable pens.

For now, Stone said the county has adequate supplies to safely conduct the primary, but “November may be a different story,” she said.

Martinsville Registrar Cynthia Barbour also is weary about the November contest, when “no-excuse” absentee voting will be allowed.

“We aren’t sure of what the turnout will be, but some neighboring states saw a 60 percent increase in requests,” Barbour said.

If the trend continues in the city, Barbour said she may be looking to hire more part-time staff to address the increased workload.

Similar to Henry County, Barbour said she hopes to receive more funding to cover postage fees and other financial matters tied to operating the election.

Incumbent Fifth District U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, on June 14 lost his bid to Bob Good, a former Liberty University official. The vote took place at a nominating convention in Lynchburg, where an estimated 2,500 party activists cast ballots in a drive-through format due to the coronavirus pandemic. Virginia allows political parties to choose between a party-run nominating convention or a primary.

The final day to vote absentee in the Registrar’s offices is June 20. Offices will be open that day from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

Sample ballots for Henry County and the City of Martinsville are printed in this newspaper.

more recommended stories