RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Virginia’s Nov. 7 elections are being described as “high-stakes” because voters will decide the balance of power in the General Assembly – and, in turn, which party could dictate the state’s legislative agenda the next two years.

All 140 Virginia General Assembly seats are on the line — some candidates are running unopposed — but most are not expected to be competitive, upping the ante on the dozen or so key battleground races expected to determine which party controls the state legislature.

The pivotal elections have drawn national attention as a potential harbinger of what’s to come in the 2024 presidential election and how campaigns approach key issues, particularly abortion rights, to turn out voters.

Some voters will cast ballots on local races, including for board of supervisors, top prosecutors and school board, and consequential questions — like Richmond’s casino proposal and having an elected school board in Hanover.

Rules to know for Election Day

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. Even after polls close, voters in line by 7 p.m. can cast a ballot.

Virginians not registered to vote can take advantage of same-day registration and cast a provisional ballot at their polling place. Voters need to bring an accepted form of identification – but one with a photo is not required.

Voters turned away from a polling place for whatever reason – unless they are at the wrong location – should ask for a provisional ballot to vote, according to the state Department of Elections. You can find more answers about Election Day online.

Early voting and absentee ballots

Virginia’s in-person early voting window at local voter registration offices opened Sept. 22 and ended Nov. 4 at 5 p.m. Per the Virginia Public Access Project, more than 750,000 Virginians voted early in person or through mail-in absentee ballots.

Absentee ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the local general registrar’s office – either through the mail or dropped off — by noon on Nov. 13.

General Assembly races to keep an eye on

Virginia’s state legislature is divided, with Republicans controlling the House of Delegates and Democrats having a majority in the state Senate.

With all 140 seats on the ballot, both parties hope to maintain their power and flip the other chamber but acknowledge that the push for control of the General Assembly will be close and depend on battleground races.

Voters will have the final say on whether the General Assembly will remain split or if one party gains total control. Here are a few competitive local races that could tip the scale one way or another:

Virginia Senate 16th District

Republican State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (left) in 2019 and Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (right) in 2023. (AP Photos/Steve Helber)
Republican State Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (left) in 2019 and Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (right) in 2023. (AP Photos/Steve Helber)

Republican state Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (Henrico) and Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (Henrico) are facing off in one of the Richmond area’s most highly contested races this Virginia election season, raising and spending millions on campaign ads ahead of Election Day.

The race between Dunnavant and VanValkenburg in the newly drawn 16th state Senate district – a western Henrico County district that leans Democrat after redistricting – is considered one of the most competitive this year.   

They have clashed over abortion, the top issue for Democrats this election season, and book bans as Democrats point to Republican-led efforts in the past as examples that the GOP will look to pass changes that threaten people’s rights.

VanValkenburg, a high school civics teacher, has accused Dunnavant, a practicing OB-GYN, of being willing to support new abortion restrictions that go beyond the ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for rape, incest and to protect the mother’s life, backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Dunnavant has challenged VanValkenburg’s framing of the abortion debate, saying she doesn’t support a ban and describing Democrats’ position on the issue as “extreme.”

She pointed to her breaking from other Republicans in voting against a 15-week proposal because it didn’t include her amendment that would have made an exception up to 24 weeks if a fetus had a severe abnormality. Democrats have been able to use their majority in the Virginia Senate to block efforts to restrict abortion — and even deter Republicans from moving their proposals forward.

Virginia House 82nd District

One of the most competitive races this year, if you take a look at campaign fundraising and spending, is the race between Del. Kim Taylor (R-Dinwiddie) and Democrat Kimberly Pope Adams in the Petersburg area.

Taylor, who owns three auto repair shops in Chesterfield with her husband, has spent almost all of the nearly $2.5 million her campaign has raised, according to VPAP.

Adams, an accountant and auditor at Virginia State University, has raised a little more than $2.7 million and spent nearly $2.5 million on her campaign, per VPAP.

Virginia House 57th District

The Henrico-area race, which also includes parts of Goochland County, pits Republican David Owen against Democrat Susanna Gibson.

Gibson, a nurse practitioner, has been able to outraise Owen despite having many Democrats distance themselves from her campaign after reports came out about her livestreaming sex with her husband and soliciting tips on the porn website Chaturbate. She condemned the sharing of the videos as the “worst gutter politics.”

Owen, a Henrico County native and retired home builder, has stayed away from attacking Gibson on the videos. (The Republican Party of Virginia sent out mailers to voters about them.) Owen has raised more than $1.2 million, per VPAP, compared to Gibson’s nearly $1.7 million.

Virginia Senate 27th District

In the Fredericksburg area, Del. Tara Durant (R-Fredericksburg) is up against Democrat Joel Griffin, a former Marine and a small business owner, and independent Monica Gary, who is on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors. Griffin has outraised Durant by more than $800,000, according to VPAP, and Gary is a distant third in fundraising.

Local races to watch

Voters around Virginia will vote on new school board members, board of supervisors, commonwealth’s attorneys and referendums.

The two local referendums getting the most attention are the proposal to bring a $562 million casino development to Richmond and one in Hanover asking voters if they want to elect the county’s school board members moving forward or continue to have them appointed by the board of supervisors.

Another key local race is the one for Dinwiddie’s commonwealth’s attorney, who will ultimately lead the prosecution of the people charged in the death of Irvo Otieno.

What about recounts?

There are no automatic recounts in Virginia. But if the difference in a race is 1% or under, the losing candidate can petition the courts for a recount within 10 days of the results being certified by the state Board of Elections or local electoral board.

For write-in candidates, the difference can’t be more than 5%. In referendums, if the difference is not more than 50 votes or 1% of the total vote – whichever is greater – 50 or more voters qualified to cast a ballot on the question can file a petition seeking a recount.

If the race has a margin over 0.5%, the losing candidate pays for the recount. The state or locality pays for the recount when the difference is below 0.5% or if the candidate or petitioner in a referendum recount wins.

The chief judge of the circuit court where the recount petition is filed – recounts sought in local races are filed in local circuit courts and recounts in state races are filed in Richmond Circuit Court — will alert the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of the request.

The justice will then appoint two other judges to serve with the chief judge of the circuit court on the recount court.