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Democrats working to build early voting lead in Virginia; can the GOP close the gap on Election Day?

With six days to go until Election Day in the closely watched Virginia gubernatorial race, state officials report that nearly 800,000 voters in the commonwealth – just over 13% of the electorate – have already handed in their ballots.

The state’s six-week early in-person voting period – which is one of the longest in the country – kicked off on Sept. 17 and concludes on Saturday. The majority of votes already cast have been in-person at polling stations compared to balloting by mail. 

The number of ballots cast at this point far exceeds the total from four years ago during the last gubernatorial election in Virginia, in 2017. But that’s not a fair comparison as prior to 2020, early voting in the state lasted for seven days and required an excuse to cast a ballot ahead of Election Day.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT VIRGINIA’S CLOSELY WATCHED GUBERNATORIAL ELECTION

Last year, due to potential in-person voting health concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Democratic-controlled state legislature moved to expand early voting to 45 days and removed the excuse requirement.

While the early voting numbers don’t break down by party, several larger and heavily Democratic counties have seen an uptick in ballots received over the past week. That includes Fairfax County, the state’s most populous, where over 111,000 ballots have already been returned. Heavily red counties are expected to see most of their votes come in next Tuesday, on Election Day.

The latest polling in the race between former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin indicates the showdown is deadlocked. The Democrats’ strategy in the crucial contest with national implications is the build a large enough lead through early voting in order to keep the Republicans from closing the gap on Election Day.

“The Democrats need to make sure their supporters voted early because they don’t tend to show up quite as eagerly as Republicans on Election Day,” University of Lynchburg political science chair David Richards told Fox News.

THE MCAULIFFE-YOUNGKIN GUBERNATORIAL SHOWDOWN IN VIRGINIA REMAINS DEADLOCKED

The latest figures from TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, suggest that McAuliffe, who’s running for his old job, holds a wide advantage over Youngkin in the ballots returned to date.  

Lower levels of early balloting by Republicans is no surprise, as then-President Donald Trump – ahead of the 2020 election – repeatedly criticized mail-in voting and early balloting, making unsubstantiated claims that it was rampant with voter fraud. And since his loss to now-President Biden last November, Trump’s continued to make unfounded allegations that the election was “rigged” and “stolen.”

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, participate in their debate at Northern Virginia Community College, in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
(AP)

McAuliffe and his high profile surrogates for weeks have been urging supporters to vote early. But ironically, so is Youngkin, a first time candidate and a former private equity CEO.

“We’ve been encouraging all Virginians to come vote, vote early,” Youngkin said a few weeks ago after casting his ballot in early voting.

The deadline to request a ballot by mail past on Oct. 22. But ballots postmarked by end of the Election Day, next Tuesday, will be accepted if they’re received by Noon on Nov. 5, the Friday after the election.

And if it’s a photo finish between McAuliffe and Young, as the four most recent public opinion polls indicated, those late arriving ballots could be pivotal. Last year, nearly 11,000 ballots in Virginia were received and counted after Election Day.

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Fairfax County Director of Elections Scott O. Konopasek told Fox News that “the number of ballots that we’re going to receive that are going to be valid on Election Day and later is going to continue to go up.”

And he noted that “it’s a possibility that we will we have to wait until Friday” to know the winner in Virginia’s gubernatorial election.

Fox News’ Remy Numa contributed to this report

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