By Stephen Groves
On Election Day, 46.3 percent of active voters in the Commonwealth lined up at the polling stations to cast their votes on who to send to the House of Representatives.
“It’s an election day- it’s important,” said Eloise Payne, who voted in Alexandria.
For many it’s about participating in democracy and making their voice heard, even if it is one of millions. While some don’t turn up because they feel their vote doesn’t count, politicians still spend big money on advertisements, phone calls, and door-knocking to try and get people to the polls.
Across the nation, people voted in record-breaking droves for this midterm election. Estimates fly as high as 90 million nationwide.
According to unofficial numbers released by the state board of elections
, 2,186,266 people turned out to vote in the Commonwealth. Official election numbers won’t be certified until Nov. 21. But for Virginia, this number is not particularly high.
While some races like the 5th District drew national attention, and a record amount of money was spent on the House elections, the voter turnout remained average for midterms. But election experts said this is likely because there was not a statewide candidate on the ballot for the first time since 1998. In that year, only 33 percent of Virginians voted.
The relatively high voter turnout for the midterm is likely due to the heated atmosphere around the races. As candidates stumped, their rhetoric became about the direction the country is moving.
“The more separation [between the candidates, the more you believe the election matters to you, the more likely you are to vote,” said Michael McDonald
, an expert on election turnout and professor at George Mason University.
In the 5th District, people showed a lot of interest- 55 percent of active voters showed up at the polls.
McDonald said that how close the race is can also play a factor. If voters' feel the pressure of a tight race, they may feel their vote could be the difference between winning and losing for their candidate. Virginia had several close elections this year- four came down to less than five percent of the vote.
In close elections, the winner is often decided by people who don’t vote for the same party every year or have a special interest in the elections.
In the 9th
District, a SurveyUSA poll released a week before the elections revealed that people who said they are “uniquely motivated” to vote this year favored state lawmaker Del. Morgan Griffith
, R- Salem twice as much as the Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher
“If the uniquely motivated 2010 voters walk-the-ballot-box walk, and don't just talk-the-pollster talk, the Republicans have a chance to snatch the seat,” said an analysis of the poll from SurveyUSA. “If the uniquely motivated voters aren't so motivated after all, Boucher keeps the seat."
Griffith’s campaign generated a good turnout of 48 percent and won the election.
In the 11th
District, the election came down to under 1,000 votes as Democratic U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly
held onto his seat from Republican challenger Keith Fimian
On Election Day, Connolly’s campaign sent out email requests and made phone calls to make sure their supporters would show up at the polls.
Candidates are often accompanied by a team of volunteers who make phone calls and knock on doors, asking people to vote. In the 5th District, both candidates claimed their volunteers made over a million phone calls during the campaigns.
The personal contact of a phone call or a conversation can have an impact, said McDonald. He pointed to research that says asking someone to vote can increase the likelihood of them voting by nine percent.
But “robo-calls,” the kind with a recorded voice of a political leader asking for a vote, don’t work well. Still, that doesn’t keep campaigns from trying it, or a host of other tactics.
Candidates raised over $36 million in this election cycle- using advertisements, direct mail, and phone calls to get people to vote.
But as Curtis Gans, the director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate at American University, acknowledged, “Money does not in and of itself drive people to the polls.”