HARRISONBURG — When it comes to voter turnout for a primary in Rockingham County, the results are pretty consistent — a one-digit percentage.
The Harrisonburg-Rockingham County area saw two primaries Tuesday, a Democratic primary for the 26th District of the House of Delegates and a Republican primary for the 24th Senatorial District.
Jennifer Frederick, deputy director of elections with Rockingham County, said unofficial results show the dual primary on Tuesday had an 8% turnout rate, with less than 3,300 votes counted.
Of the votes counted, unofficially, the county saw a 6% turnout for the Republican primary, or 2,538 votes for the two candidates, and 2% for the Democratic primary, or 816 votes for the two candidates.
There are more than 41,000 registered voters in Rockingham County, according to the Rockingham County Registrar’s Office.
Due to the dual primary, precincts in Rockingham County were split and only two precincts were able to vote in both primaries. Five precincts in the county were ineligible to vote Tuesday.
The Democratic primary consisted of two localities, Harrisonburg with nine precincts and Rockingham County with 15 precincts.
For the Republican primary, there were 79 precincts spread out among Augusta, Culpeper, Greene, Madison and Rockingham counties, as well as the cities of Staunton and Waynesboro.
Frederick said Tuesday overall was a “smooth day” with few complications.
“There was some confusion surrounding voters in terms of which districts they could vote in,” Frederick said. “Voters in the 26th Senatorial District were coming to place their ballot for the 24th Senatorial District to find out they couldn’t vote in that district.”
Frederick said she was not surprised by the turnout because the county is “consistent” when it comes to primaries.
“In 2018, we had a dual primary for the U.S. Senate and House,” Frederick said. “We saw a turnout of 3% for the Democratic primary and 6% for the Republican primary.”
The trend continues.
For the gubernatorial and lieutenant governor race in 2017, there was a turnout of 4% for the Democratic primary and 8% for the Republican primary.
In 2016, Frederick said there was a single Republican primary for the presidential election with an overall 6% turnout.
Frederick said when it comes to the general election in November, the numbers are always higher.
“The general election in 2018 for the U.S. Senate and House had a 63% turnout rate,” Frederick said. “The presidential election is always the highest at 75%, followed by the gubernatorial election at roughly 70%.”
When an 8% turnout is broken down among the 26 precincts and absentee ballots, the numbers begin to dwindle.
“Precinct 306 Cross Keys is the winner every year when it comes to turnout,” Frederick said. “That precinct has 589 registered voters and had a 20% turnout on Tuesday, casting 115 ballots.”
The precinct with the second highest turnout was precinct 403 Mount Crawford. Out of 279 registered voters, 42 turned out, creating a 15% turnout rate.
The highest turnout rate was for the Republican primary.
The precincts with the lowest turnout were precinct 102 Timberville, 103 Fulks Run, 108 Little North Mountain, 204 Mount Clinton, 205 Silver Lake and 505 Stony Run — all reaching a 3% turnout rate for the Democratic primary.
Precinct 401 West Bridgewater had a turnout rate of 5% that was made up of only two voters out of 41 registered.
Primary Vs. Firehouse
Brent Finnegan and Cathy Copeland, the two Democrats running for the 26th District of the House of Delegates Tuesday, have experience running for office.
In 2017, Finnegan and Copeland ran against each other during a “firehouse primary” where the only voting locations were the Linville-Edom Ruritan Hall and the Harrisonburg City Council Chambers.
In that election, Finnegan won 437 votes to Copeland’s 269.
The decision to hold a state-run primary Tuesday rather than a firehouse primary was made by the 26th House District Nominating Committee, chaired by Alleyn Harned of Harrisonburg and co-chaired by Thea Campbell, chair of the Rockingham County Democratic Committee, according to Campbell.
“The committee heard from area voters that the unassembled caucus was not the preferred method of nominating the Democratic candidate due to the limited number of voting locations and confusion over where to vote,” Campbell said. “By holding a primary that is state-run, voters were able to participate at their normal polling locations.”
Campbell said the turnout for voting in Tuesday’s primary was “dramatically higher.”
“Increasing participation was a major goal of the 26th House District Nominating Committee and having three times as many votes in a year where there is no federal or statewide election is extremely encouraging,” Campbell said.
Finnegan said in an interview Tuesday with the Daily News-Record that he “wanted to see a larger group of people participating,” which contributed to the discussion of a state-run primary.
On Tuesday, there were 816 voters in Rockingham County and 1,892 in Harrisonburg. Participation in the Democratic primary ultimately increased by more than 1,000 votes compared to the previous firehouse format.
“I think what that broader participation shows is the message and the values of this campaign resonate with people in this community,” Finnegan said Tuesday.