Elections in Virginia

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Elections in Virginia are authorized under Article I Virginia State Constitution, sections 5–6, and Article V which establishes elections for the state level officers, cabinet, and legislature. Article VII section 4 establishes the election of county-level officers.

Elections are regulated under state statute 24.2-102. The Virginia State Board of Elections oversees the execution of elections under state law.


The U.S. state of Virginia holds its state general elections on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (better known as Election Day) in every second odd-numbered years. As a result of this, general elections in Virginia systematically follow the quadrennial United States presidential election by one year.

During general elections in Virginia, elections are held for the positions of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state senator, state delegate, Commonwealth's attorney, sheriff, county clerk, and probate judge. Officials elected to the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and state senator are elected for a term of four years. All other officials are elected for a term of two years.

Virginia's governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general are elected at large. State senators and state representatives are elected by district; county-level officers are elected by county.

Virginia has 100 seats in its house of delegates, and 40 seats in its Senate.


Gubernatorial election results[1]
Year Democratic Republican
1953 54.8% 226,998 44.3% 183,328
1957 63.2% 326,921 36.4% 188,628
1961 63.9% 251,861 36.2% 142,567
1965 47.9% 296,526 37.7% 212,207
1969 45.4% 415,695 52.5% 480,869
1973 49.3% 510,103 50.7% 525,075
1977 43.3% 541,319 55.9% 699,302
1981 53.6% 760,357 46.4% 659,398
1985 55.2% 741,438 44.8% 601,652
1989 50.1% 897,139 49.8% 890,285
1993 40.9% 733,527 58.3% 1,045,319
1997 42.6% 738,971 55.8% 969,062
2001 52.2% 984,177 47.0% 887,234
2005 51.7% 1,025,942 46.0% 912,327
2009 41.3% 818,950 58.6% 1,163,651
2013 47.8% 1,069,789 45.2% 1,013,354
2017 53.9% 1,409,175 45.0% 1,175,731
Presidential election results[1]
Year Democratic Republican
1952 43.4% 268,677 56.3% 349,037
1956 38.4% 267,760 55.4% 386,459
1960 47.0% 362,327 52.4% 404,521
1964 53.5% 558,038 46.2% 481,334
1968 32.5% 442,387 43.4% 590,319
1972 30.1% 438,887 67.8% 988,493
1976 48.0% 813,896 49.3% 836,554
1980 40.3% 752,174 53.0% 989,609
1984 37.1% 796,250 62.3% 1,337,078
1988 39.2% 859,799 59.7% 1,309,162
1992 40.6% 1,038,650 45.0% 1,150,517
1996 45.2% 1,091,060 47.1% 1,138,350
2000 44.4% 1,217,290 52.5% 1,437,490
2004 45.5% 1,454,742 53.7% 1,716,959
2008 52.6% 1,959,532 46.3% 1,725,005
2012 51.2% 1,971,820 47.3% 1,822,522
2016 49.8% 1,981,473 44.4% 1,769,443
2020 54.1% 2,413,568 44.0% 1,962,430

After the American Civil War (1861–1865), Virginia was in political turmoil. 48 former counties now in West Virginia were gone, soon to be joined by two more. The Commonwealth of Virginia unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the remaining area, many citizens, mostly males of African American heritage, were newly enfranchised to vote. Many others, primarily former Confederates, were initially disenfranchised.

Elections resumed after 5 years as U.S. Military District, and control was chaotic. In the late 1870s, a coalition of Conservative Democrats, Republicans and African Americans was assembled and the Readjuster Party took power for about 10 years.

After U.S. Senator William Mahone and the Readjuster Party lost control of Virginia politics around 1883, white Democrats regained the state legislature. They proceeded to use statute and a new constitution in 1901, with provisions such as a poll tax, residency requirements, and literacy test to disfranchise most African Americans and many poor whites. Their disfranchisement lasted until after passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s.

White Democrats created a one-party state, with a nearly unchallenged majority of state and most federal offices through the middle of the 20th century. The Byrd Organization headed by Harry F. Byrd Sr. largely controlled statewide politics. Through their leadership and activism in the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans gained national support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which provided Federal oversight and enforcement to maintain all citizens' ability to vote. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, decisions affecting elections are subject to preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice before they can take effect.

President Lyndon Johnson's and national Democrats' support for civil rights turned many conservative whites in Virginia against the Democrats. However, many Virginians had been willing to support Republicans, at least at the national level, since the 1930s due to Franklin Roosevelt's strong support for organized labor. While the Republican Party in most of the South tended to attract right-wing conservatives like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, Virginia's GOP has tended to be more moderate by regional standards. The state elected moderate Republican A. Linwood Holton Jr. in 1970; Holton became the first Republican governor in the 20th century, effectively ending the influence of the Byrd Organization. The current Virginia State Constitution was created in 1971 to replace the discriminatory one created in 1901. Holton was succeeded by two other Republican governors: the more conservative Mills Godwin (a former Democrat) and John N. Dalton. Five-term U.S. Senator John Warner and Congressman Tom Davis also exemplified the more "moderate-conservative" tendencies of Virginia Republicans. From 1982 through 1994, Democrats served as governor, with Chuck Robb elected in 1981 and Gerald L. Baliles in 1985. In 1989, Virginia elected Democrat Douglas Wilder governor, who served from 1990 to 1994, as Virginia's first African-American governor. In 2001, Virginia elected Democrats Mark Warner as governor and Tim Kaine as lieutenant governor, and Kaine was elected to succeed Warner as governor in 2005. In 2009, however, a Republican again returned to the governor's mansion as Bob McDonnell defeated Democrat Creigh Deeds, garnering 58.61% of the popular vote to Deeds' 41.25%. Republicans also managed to sweep all statewide races in 2009, the first time they accomplished this feat since 1997.

Virginia voted for Republicans in nearly every presidential election from 1952 to 2004 except for the Democratic landslide in President Johnson's election in 1964. This former streak started when Richard Nixon began the Southern Strategy, and is the longest among the former Confederate States. Virginia was the only such state to vote for Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter in 1976. Since 2008, Virginia has voted for Democrats in presidential elections, including Barack Obama; in 2016, Virginia was the only Southern state to vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.


Congressional representation[edit]

This image shows the new court-ordered VA Congressional districts that will be used for the 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections.




Voters do not register by party in Virginia, and Virginia conducts "open primaries" where any voter may cast a ballot for either party. In general elections, the party affiliations of local candidates do not appear on the ballot. Candidates for federal, statewide, and General Assembly offices appear on the ballot with party designations.[2]

Besides the Democratic Party of Virginia and the Republican Party of Virginia, other parties include the Libertarian Party of Virginia, Constitution Party of Virginia, Green Party of Virginia, and the Independent Greens of Virginia. Third parties and independents have benefited from electoral reform in Virginia, especially streamlined ballot access, and have made their presence known by appearing on statewide ballots and even winning seats to soil and water conservation district boards.[citation needed]

Balance of power[edit]

Virginia Government balance of power

Office Party in Power Assumed Control Next Election
Governor Democrat (Northam) January 13, 2018 (Northam) November 2021
Lieutenant governor Democrat (Fairfax) January 13, 2018 (Fairfax) November 2021
Attorney general Democrat (Herring) January 11, 2014 (Herring) November 2021
Virginia Senate Democrat (21/40 seats) January 2020 (21/40 seats) November 2023
Virginia House of Delegates Democrat (55/100 seats) January 2020 (55/100 seats) November 2021

List of elections and turnout[edit]

The following table lists all state and federal regular elections from 1976, along with the voter turnout.[3]

Year Registered Percentage change from previous year Total voting Turnout (% voting of total registered) Voting absentee (included in total voting) Elections
2019 State: Senate, House
2018 5,666,962 3.31% 3,374,382 59.5% 287,763 Federal: Senator (I), House
2017 5,489,530 -0.73% 2,612,309 47.6% 182,256 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
2016 5,529,742 6.41% 3,984,631 72.05% 496,452 Federal: President, House
2015 5,196,436 -1.60% 1,509,864 29.1% 62,605 State: Senate, House
2014 5,281,011 0.78% 2,194,346 41.6% 123,221 Federal: Senator (II), House
2013 5,240,286 -3.5% 2,253,418 43.0% 121,359 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
2012 5,428,833 6.1% 3,858,043 71.06% 447,907 Federal: President, Senator (I), House
2011 5,116,929 1.68% 1,463,761 28.61% 59,519 State: Senate, House
2010 5,032,144 1.54% 2,214,503 44.01% 106,888 Federal: House
2009 4,955,750 -1.57% 2,000,812 40.4% 88,182 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
2008 5,034,660 10.7% 3,723,260 74.0% 506,672 Federal: President, Senator (II), House
2007 4,549,864 - 0.1% 1,374,526 30.2% 30,619 State: Senate, House
2006 4,554,683 2.3% 2,398,589 52.7% 116,629 Federal: Senator (I), House
2005 4,452,225 - 1.5% 2,000,052 44.92% 75,982 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
2004 4,517,980 7.1% 3,198,367 70.79% 222,059 Federal: President, House
2003 4,217,227 - 0.1% 1,296,955 30.8% 35,716 State: Senate, House
2002 4,219,957 2.7% 1,331,915 31.56% 44,493 Federal: Senator (II), House
2001 4,109,127 0.9% 1,905,511 46.4% 52,344 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
2000 4,073,644 7.0% 2,739,447 67.2% 150,414 Federal: President, Senator (I), House
1999 3,808,754 2.3% 1,373,527 36.1% 10,686 State: Senate, House
1998 3,724,683 4.5% 1,229,139 33.0% 31,494 Federal: House
1997 3,565,697 7.3% 1,764,476 49.5% 47,571 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
1996 * 3,322,740 9.4% 2,416,642 72.7% 116,606 Federal: President, Senator (II), House
1995 3,038,394 1.3% 1,585,783 52.2% 45,785 State: Senate, House
1994 3,000,560 0.9% 2,078,106 69.3% 81,636 Federal: Senator (I), House
1993 2,975,121 -2.6% * 1,817,777 61.1% 53,904 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
1992 3,055,486 9.4% 2,558,665 83.7% 141,123 Federal: President, House
1991 2,791,747 2.1% 1,371,940 49.1% unreported State: Senate, House
1990 2,735,339 -0.1% 1,252,971 45.8% 25,785 Federal: Senator (II), House
1989 2,737,340 -4.9% * 1,821,242 66.5% 54,177 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
1988 2,877,144 8.3% 2,231,876 77.6% 108,237 Federal: President, Senator (I), House
1987 2,657,412 1.8% 1,571,110 59.1% 38,505 State: Senate, House
1986 2,609,698 0.5% 1,115,179 42.7% 22,589 Federal: House
1985 2,597,904 -2.9% * 1,377,966 53.0% 32,943 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
1984 2,675,641 14.8% 2,180,515 81.5% 113,686 Federal: President, Senator (II), House
1983 2,330,595 4.3% 1,178,707 50.6% unreported State: Senate, House
1982 2,234,011 0.9% 1,454,628 65.1% 32,340 Federal: Senator (I), House
State: House
1981 2,214,926 -4.1% * 1,437,382 64.90% 30,584 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
1980 2,309,181 12.6% 1,881,648 81.49% 84,811 Federal: President, House
1979 2,050,499 1.2% 1,059,158 51.65% unreported State: Senate, House
1978 2,026,515 0.2% 1,251,471 61.75% 26,989 Federal: Senator (II), House
1977 2,022,619 -4.8% * 1,267,208 62.7% 29,970 State: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, House
1976 2,123,849 1,716,182 80.8% unreported Federal: President, Senator (I), House
  • The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 ("Motor Voter Act") was implemented in Virginia beginning in March 1996. This Act allowed voter registration forms to be submitted through Department of Motor Vehicles offices and other designated agencies, or to be submitted by mail. Also, prior to this, any Virginia voter who had not voted in four years was removed ("purged") from the electoral rolls.

Recent events[edit]

Barack Obama campaigns in Virginia Beach. Virginia voted for a Democrat for the first time in ten Presidential elections.

In 1989, Doug Wilder was the first African-American elected governor of a U.S. state. Despite Virginia's support of Republican presidential candidates and reputation as a conservative state, voters elected Democratic candidates for three consecutive gubernatorial races in the 1980s. In addition, Democratic representatives maintained large majorities in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. Many Democratic state representatives from rural and suburban districts had conservative stances on various issues.

In the 1990s Virginia experienced some political realignment, electing conservative Republicans George Allen and Jim Gilmore to the governorship from 1994 until 2002. Jim Gilmore's "no car tax" pledge was emblazoned on bumper stickers and yard signs across the state. Republicans captured both houses of the General Assembly and built majorities. Republican representatives replaced Conservative and moderate Democrats from rural and suburban areas. Within the Republican party, more conservative office holders supplanted the remnants of the less conservative "mountain-valley" faction of Holton, so named because many members were from the Shenandoah Valley and Southwest Virginia.

After eight years of Republican governorships, in 2001, Mark Warner, a progressive businessman, won the governorship and confronted budget difficulties related to the recession by cutting money from all state departments. Virginia's executive branch is limited by the fact that governors are barred from serving consecutive terms, a constitutional provision that distinguishes Virginia from any other state. After decades of Democratic rule in the Virginia General Assembly, Republicans took control around the turn of the 21st century and promptly redistricted to protect their incumbents. In 2005 Tim Kaine, Warner's lieutenant governor, won the governor's office over Jerry Kilgore and "independent Republican" state senator Russ Potts.

In 2006, Jim Webb narrowly defeated George Allen in the wake of the Macaca slur incident. The electorate's reaction to Allen's gaffe demonstrated the changing sensibilities of the region's citizens; prior to that, Allen had a double-digit lead in the polls.[4] In 2007, Virginia driver fees legislation created a political uproar when residents realized that they faced $3,000 fines for certain moving violations. An online petition quickly gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, spurring legislators up for re-election that November to reconsider their positions. This was the first time that the Internet played such a dramatic role in influencing Virginia politics.[5] In 2007, the Democrats regained control of the State Senate, and narrowed the Republican majority in the House of delegates to 7 or 8 votes.[6]

Virginia voted for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008, after backing Republican candidates for the previous ten presidential elections.[7] Virginia may be considered a "swing state" for future presidential elections.[8] Its margin for Obama of 6.3% made it a close indicator of the national vote (a 7.2% Obama margin).

In the November 2009 general election Republican Bob McDonnell won the governorship by an 18% margin, while Republican lieutenant governor and Attorney General candidates Bill Bolling and Ken Cuccinelli also won their respective races.[9] They led statewide gains by the Republican party winning five additional seats in the House of Delegates.[10]

In the November 2010 federal elections, Republicans picked up three U.S. House seats previously held by Democrats, and proceeded to hold eight of Virginia's eleven seats, compared to three for Democrats.

In the November 2018 federal elections, Democrats picked up three U.S. House seats previously held by Republicans, and proceeded to hold seven of Virginia's eleven seats, compared to four for Republicans.

From 1977 until November 2013, Virginia had elected a governor of the opposite political party compared to the current President of the United States of the time.[citation needed]

The current Governor of Virginia is Ralph Northam, who was inaugurated on January 13, 2018.

Regional differences[edit]

2006 Senatorial election majority results by county, with George Allen in red and Jim Webb in blue.

Northern Virginia, has favored Democratic candidates in recent elections. This is likely due to the large migration of people from the liberal Northeastern states into the Washington Metropolitan Area (which includes Northern Virginia) as well as an increase in the minority population especially Latinos and Asians. John Kerry won Fairfax County, long a Republican stronghold, by 2.4% and generally fared better in the rest of Northern Virginia than Al Gore did in 2000. Despite this increase however, he still lost every other county with the exception of Arlington County in the Northern Virginia region in the 2004 election. In contrast to the changing voting trend in Northern Virginia, the majority of the rest of Virginia has been supportive of the Republican Party. Some portions of the state like college towns and the southeastern counties in the Black Belt Region have been more likely to vote Democratic.

In 2005 and 2006, Democrats Tim Kaine (running for governor) and Jim Webb (in a race for Senator) won nearly all jurisdictions within the Northern Virginia region. Alexandria resident Mark Warner had not won so many jurisdictions when winning the governorship in 2001. By contrast, Warner performed comparatively strongly in rural areas, particularly Southwest Virginia. His campaign had stressed respect for rural cultural values (such as gun rights) and strategies for economic development.

In the state's largest city, Virginia Beach (pop. 450,000), most elected officials are Republicans. However, most elected officials in the state's most populous county, Fairfax County (pop. 1,250,000), are Democrats. The Republican Party's strongholds are in the counties of Southwest Virginia, exurban Northern Virginia counties like Stafford, and Richmond suburbs like Hanover County. Democrats are dominant in the inner suburbs of Northern Virginia, the city of Charlottesville and its suburbs in Albemarle County, and industrial Hampton Roads cities of Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and Hampton, and also the city of Richmond. The three most significant "swing districts" are Loudoun and Prince William counties in Northern Virginia and Henrico County in the Richmond suburbs. All three of these "swing" counties voted for President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, Barack Obama in 2008[11] and 2012[12][circular reference], and Hillary Clinton in 2016.[13] In the 2018 midterm elections, Loudoun County and Henrico County voted for Democratic members of Congress while Prince William voted for a Republican[14][circular reference]. All three counties were carried by Tim Kaine and Jim Webb. Democrats have won formerly Republican-held seats in the General Assembly in Loudoun and Prince William counties.

Voting rights[edit]

In 2009, Governor Tim Kaine proposed to authorize no-excuse early voting in Virginia elections, noting that 26 other states allow it.[15] On January 26, 2009, the bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate.[16] However, the Republican-controlled House of delegates killed the proposal.

Governor Kaine worked with a coalition of civic groups to work to restore the voting rights of felons who were convicted of non-violent crimes in the past. Kaine's staff reviewed each individual application from felons who had been out of prison for at least five years without an additional conviction. An estimated 300,000 Virginia citizens are not allowed to vote due to a prior felony conviction.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Leip, David. "General Election Results – Virginia". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved November 18, 2016.
  2. ^ Va. Code § 24.2-613
  3. ^ Registration/Turnout Statistics, Virginia Departement of Elections
  4. ^ "Allen's Listening Tour". YouTube. 2006-08-14. Retrieved 2006-08-15.
  5. ^ Va. Driver Fees Now Election Weapon, Tim Craig, The Washington Post, July 17, 2007.
  6. ^ https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/07/AR2007110700553_2.html Retrieved 2007-11-07.
  7. ^ Lewis, Bob (November 5, 2008). "Obama first Democrat to take Virginia in 44 years". Associated Press. Fox News. Archived from the original on 2011-05-10. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
  8. ^ Balz, Dan (October 12, 2007). "Painting America Purple". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2011-05-23. Retrieved 2007-11-24.
  9. ^ Whiting, Tyler (November 4, 2009). "McDonnell leads GOP sweep of statewide races". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Archived from the original on 2009-11-07. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  10. ^ Cain, Andrew (November 5, 2009). "GOP gains at least five Virginia House seats". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Archived from the original on November 8, 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
  11. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2008/results/states/president/virginia.html
  12. ^ 2012 United States presidential election in Virginia
  13. ^ https://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president/virginia/
  14. ^ United States congressional delegations from Virginia
  15. ^ http://www.southernstudies.org/2009/01/voting-rights-virginia-governor-pushes-for-no-excuse-early-voting.html Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2009-02-08.
  16. ^ Walker, Julian (January 26, 2009). "Virginia Senate approves no-excuse absentee voting". Virginia Pilot. Retrieved 2009-02-08.
  17. ^ Craig, Tim (June 17, 2008). "Groups Push to Restore Va. Felons' Voting Rights". Washington Post. p. B01. Retrieved 2009-02-08.

External links[edit]