Virginia voters queued for up to four hours Friday to cast ballots on the state's first day of early voting, turning out in force in the fiercely contested US presidential race.
The state bordering the US capital Washington joined Minnesota, South Dakota and Wyoming in launching in-person early voting operations ahead of the November 3 election between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden.
Of the four states, closely-contested Minnesota was the focal point for both candidates, who headed there separately for campaign events as they sought to win over voters in the Midwestern battleground.
In Virginia, a line of some 300 people, many expressing a sense of urgency about this year's contest and the president's rhetoric about mail-in voting, snaked out the doors of the Fairfax County Government Center.
"There have been so many concerns about efforts to attack the post office and absentee voting, and efforts to interfere with voting, we thought we wanted to get our vote on the record as soon as possible," McLean resident Nell Minow told AFP.
"We're taking no chances," her husband David Apatoff added.
Asked about standing in line for hours, sometimes in close proximity to other voters, Apatoff was adamant. "It's a risk worth taking," he said, noting how everyone was wearing masks. "There's nothing more important."
Some voters worried about the threat of the coronavirus pandemic said they were seeking to avoid election day crowds, while others expressed concern about the process given Trump's repeated and unfounded allegations that mail-in voting is somehow fraudulent.
In Nevada last Saturday, Trump once again bashed a longstanding and safe election process of voting by mail, claiming that states would be sending out 80 million ballots with "no idea where they're going."
"It's Democrats, they're trying to rig this election," Trump said.
Trump's sharp comments -- made with no evidence to back up his claims -- may have had a role in citizens clogging early-voting sites to eliminate any potential ambiguity.
"It's better than mailing in a ballot where you don't know where it's going," early voter Tom Laurya said in Arlington. "There's good reason just to vote in person to make sure you get it done."
Virginia has voted Democratic in the previous three presidential elections, and Biden holds a substantial lead here.
But Trump was still battling for the state, tweeting out his hostility to Virginia's "crazy" Democratic governor and appealing to the state's large population of government employees.
"I'm playing for your guns, and I'm playing for your values," the president wrote. "For all the Federal Employees in Virginia, remember, it was me that got you the Federal Pay Raises, not Sleepy Joe Biden."
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