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Data: Virginia Department of Elections. Note: The numbers above show the total number of absentee ballots cast by mail in municipal elections in more than 100 cities and towns across Virginia in 2016 and 2020. This year’s number is preliminary and reflects the number of absentee mail ballots as of Wednesday morning. Chart: Axios Visuals

42 times as many mail-in ballots were cast in Tuesday's Virginia municipal elections than in 2016, according to new data from the sVirginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

Why it matters: The state's experience provides an idea of how massively such demand may skyrocket across the U.S. this year because of the coronavirus pandemic — and can serve as a signpost for election officials as they rush to prepare in response to the virus.

By the numbers: 61,220 absentee mailed-in ballots were cast across more than 100 cities and towns in Virginia, according to VPAP. In 2016, just 1,452 mailed-in ballots were cast.

  • In 20 Virginia towns and nine cities, more than half of votes cast were absentee.
  • Of nearly 91,000 absentee ballot applications submitted for these local elections, 96% were under the "disability or illness" category, which was what people concerned about COVID-19 were told to choose, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

And these are just municipal-level elections. Demand for vote-by-mail for bigger general elections in November could be so great that some officials are beginning to worry about supply shortages.

  • "Supply chain issues are huge," Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told Axios last week. "There are rumors about a nationwide envelope shortage."
  • Earlier this year, Wisconsin saw requests for absentee ballots surge and had to act fast to solve its own envelope shortages, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in March.

What to watch: The spike in absentee voting seems to show that the public is paying attention to warnings by public health officials about crowds voting in person on election day.

  • One new study, for example, found that Wisconsin counties that had higher numbers of in-person voting per voting location during the primary also had higher rates of positive COVID-19 tests two to three weeks after the election compared to counties with relatively fewer in-person voters.
  • President Trump has been leading Republican efforts to fight some efforts to expand vote-by-mail, claiming without evidence that it could lead to widespread election fraud.

Go deeper

Iowa closes bars, nightclubs in 6 counties due to coronavirus spikes among young people

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Thursday ordered all bars, nightclubs and breweries to close in six counties across the state after a spike in positive coronavirus cases, specifically among young adults, the Des Moines Register reports.

The state of play: The order will remain in effect until at least Sept. 5, and counties containing major universities were specifically targeted. Restaurants in the affected counties will also be ordered to stop serving alcohol after 10 p.m.

Updated Oct 7, 2020 - Health

World coronavirus updates

Expand chart
Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand now has active no coronavirus cases in the community after the final six people linked to the Auckland cluster recovered, the country's Health Ministry confirmed in an email Wednesday.

The big picture: The country's second outbreak won't officially be declared closed until there have been "no new cases for two incubation periods," the ministry said. Auckland will join the rest of NZ in enjoying no domestic restrictions from late Wednesday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, declaring that NZ had "beat the virus again."