Congressional race undecided

Janet Parker helps DaVell Smith prepare to vote on Tuesday at Moss-Nuckols Elementary School. There weren’t many lines at the 15 precincts this election, since 42 percent of Louisa County voters cast their ballots early or via the mail.   

UPDATE: Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger says she has won the 7th District race against Nick Freitas. State elections results show her with a lead of just over 5,000 votes with all precincts reporting.

The following is the story that will appear in tomorrow’s edition of The Central Virginian, as we went to press at noon today:

The contest between Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger and challenger Nick Freitas for the 7th Congressional District seat was too close to call as Election Day ended, with numerous absentee ballots in suburban areas still to be counted.

After Henrico and Chesterfield counties counted their totals on Nov. 4, Spanberger reportedly trailed Freitas by 712 votes. As of 4 p.m., Spotsylvania County had not reported the results from some 35,000 absentee or early votes.

On the national level, the presidential race was in a similar place. President Donald Trump clearly won here in Louisa County, and Joseph Biden was the winner of the popular vote in Virginia and the state’s 13 electoral votes. But in several swing states, many ballots remained to be tallied, and neither candidate had enough electoral votes for a victory.

Though 42 percent of Louisa County voters cast ballots early, that left a lot of citizens who came out on Tuesday to make their choices at the 15 regular polling stations. However, the uniquely large early and absentee vote skewed precinct results, because the county registrar’s office assigns early votes to their own “central absentee precinct.”

There were still 408 absentee ballots that had not been returned to the registrar’s office as of Nov. 2. Any ballots that were postmarked by Tuesday and arrive at the registrar’s office by Nov. 6 at noon will be counted. But these votes, and any provisional votes cast at the polls on Tuesday, are not enough to offset the results that have already been reported.

Besides Trump, 60 percent of Louisa voters backed Freitas in the House of Representatives race and Daniel Gade for U.S. Senate over incumbent Mark Warner. Statewide, Warner was projected by media sources as the decisive winner, though Gade had not conceded as of Wednesday morning.

Louisa County backed Trump with 61 percent of the vote, one percentage point more than he received in the county against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. In the Freitas-Spanberger race, Louisans gave Freitas 60 percent of the vote. Spanberger’s 40 percent share was the same as it was in 2018, when she lost in Louisa but won the district.

The 21,796 votes cast in Louisa in the presidential race represents about 80 percent of all registered voters. That impressive turnout easily exceeds the 75 percent who turned out for the Trump-Clinton vote in the county in 2016.

Voters in Louisa County strongly supported the state constitutional amendment to create a redistricting commission, with 69 percent in support. Statewide, the amendment was backed by 66 percent of voters. The commission, to be composed of state legislators and citizens, will be responsible in 2021 for redrawing boundaries for legislative districts at the state and federal levels. 

The commission was viewed by a majority of voters as more fair than the current system, which is controlled by whichever political party has power in the Virginia General Assembly. However, the state Democratic Party opposed the referendum, with some arguing the new method does not do enough to fight discrimination against voters of color. Others said legislators will continue to have too much of a hand in how districts are drawn.

Voters also backed the second state constitutional amendment, to allow a vehicle owned and used by a military veteran with a service-connected disability to be free from state and local taxation.

While the country seems as polarized politically as anyone can remember it being, the mood at several precincts on Election Day was calm and even upbeat. Outside Trevilians Elementary School, Democratic and Republican volunteers chatted with each other and worked together to help a citizen find her driver’s license. She had dropped it in the parking lot and needed it to vote.

“Everything has been amicable today, which says a lot about our county,” said Willian Woody, a Republican Party volunteer who was at Moss-Nuckols Elementary School.

“I hope this motivates people to get involved in how they’re governed,” said Karen Whitlock, who voted at Trevilians Elementary School after completing her shift as a volunteer. “I’ve been enthused because people who have come to vote seem to be informed and an informed citizen is a better citizen.”  

Many who came to vote felt there were two distinct sides on the ballot, reflecting the national division. 

“It’s not [a choice between] Democrats or Republicans. It’s socialism or freedom,” said Steve Duren, who voted at Mineral Baptist Church.

“I feel as though we need to regain power, humanity and equality,” said Shenda Allen, who was staffing a Democratic Party table at Moss-Nuckols with Lewalta Henry and Mildred Quarles. “We feel if you hold the highest power in the country, the leader should be representing all Americans.”  

Reporters Toby Cox and Joseph Haney contributed to this story.

Last updated at 4 p.m. on Nov. 4.

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