A beautiful, breezy spring day contrasted with dismal turnout at the local polls for Tuesday’s primary election selecting state office candidates for the November election.
There was, however, an abundance of opinions from voters who did show up to cast ballots in the nominating contests for the District 17 and District 24 Virginia State Senate seats and District 18 House of Delegates.
More than halfway into the voting day, less than 5 percent of registered voters had cast ballots at the county’s largest precinct at West Fairfax in the town of Culpeper. By 1:14 p.m., just 197 of 4,270 voters registered to vote there had done so, at the Culpeper United Methodist Church on Madison Road.
Across the street at the library, where East Fairfax District voters cast ballots, 111 voters of 4,005 registered at the site had participated by 12:20 p.m.
Split into multiple districts, the library voting site was the only one in the county where voters cast ballots in all the day’s nominating competitions. It caused some confusion, though poll workers said it was made easier with the assistance of new laptops.
“We have new computers and they tell us what to do,” said Bob McCall, chief officer of the election at East Fairfax. “They actually tell you which ballots the voter gets.”
The computer determined which district the voter was in before designating a purple, green, yellow or a blue card determining which ballot they would pencil in and scan through the machine. Many voters complained about having to declare if they wanted to vote in the Democratic or Republican Primary, McCall said, but that’s how the system works.
At the East Fairfax voting site, residents living in the area behind Lowe’s Home Improvement voted in the primaries for District 24 State Senate and District 18 House of Delegates. Meanwhile, the rest of the town’s residents voted in the primaries for District 17 State Senate.
Voter Caryn Hartling picked first time political candidate Tina Freitas, of Culpeper, for the Republican nomination in the 24th. Freitas was running against incumbent Emmett Hanger, a six-term state senator from Mount Solon about whom Hartling said she didn’t know a lot.
“I personally know Tina Freitas and she is one the most outspoken, educated women that I’ve ever met,” the voter said. “She knows what she’s talking about, she’s done her research and I align with her values.”
Asked what the state senate should focus on in the 2020 session, Hartling mentioned measures supporting her anti-abortion stance.
“That’ such a hot topic issue, abortion is such a personal thing. As a woman, you don’t know what I’ve been through, I don’t know what you’ve been through or what the next person has been going through, but I do believe in pro-life” she said. “I think that is very important because I do see how devastating abortions can be. To me, it’s just heartbreaking.”
Hartling also mentioned the hot topic of gun control.
“I don’t like the idea of sanctioning gun control to an extent because I do appreciate protections that guns give me. I do understand that some people have guns that should not, but I would rather be able to defend myself with a gun against that person,” she said.
Fairfax Street resident Gloria Stanton voted in the Democratic Primary for District 17 State Senate, a contest between candidates Ben Hixon of Culpeper and Amy Laufer of Albemarle. She said she selected Hixon because he came to her door to meet face-to-face during campaigning. Asked about her most important issues, Stanton mentioned veterans support services and housing for the poor.
“You got a whole lot of homeless out here, seems like people just don’t care. They really want to work, they want affordable housing—don’t nobody want social services, but what can you do when the wages are not equal to the cost of living around here?” she said, adding, “I think veterans really do need to be taken care of because they fought for my freedom.”
Vietnam veteran John Simmons also voted in the Democratic Primary for District 17 State Senate. He said he selected Laufer because he felt she better represented his views. He recalled what he came home to after fighting overseas.
“When I got back from Vietnam I was in San Francisco, kid that high looked at me, said, ‘Momma, look at that baby killer.’ I don’t blame the kid, I blame the parents,” he said.
Across the highway at the Methodist church, Gail Costello had a table set up collecting signatures for One Virginia 2021, a statewide organization focused on ending gerrymandering, the politically motivated drawing up of voting districts.
“Gerrymandering has a lot do to with the reason why our country is divided as it is, because when the politicians do what they do to protect themselves, they don’t have the voters in mind,” she said. “It takes away your voice.”
The fact that Culpeper County is split into five different General Assembly districts is awful, Costello noted. “Because I live in Lignum and my state senator is Emmett Hanger who is out in Staunton.” A six-term republican, Hanger “has all of a sudden been toting the moderate line,” she said.
“Go back and look at what he’s done and what you’ll find is he was one the most staunch Republicans in the world and he’s now running on a moderate ticket. I think it’s just about the election because he never cared about this side of the district at all,” said Costello, a retired school administrative assistant.