You might be surprised to learn that despite proclamations by such politicos as Kos that "Turnout will be bleak" based on absentee ballots so far returned, absentee voting is actually up in Virginia. The article that Kos and many have quoted from the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that "[the secretary state of the board of elections] Nancy Rodrigues said 11,549 absentee applications were sent to Democratic primary voters and 5,331 were received."
The last two times Virginia had competitive statewide primaries of a non-national scale (05 for LT. Gov and 06 for US Sen.) less than 5,000 absentee ballots were cast in the Democratic primary. In 2005, 4,525 absentees were cast and made up 3.57% of total ballots cast. In 2006, 4,721 absentees were cast and made up 3.00% of total ballots cast.
Absentees are still coming in until the day of the election, but the ones already return alone suggest that turnout should be UP in the 09 primary vs. recent years.
While we can guess that absentees will make up somewhere around 3% of the percentage of primary ballots cast, we really have no idea whether it will be 3.00% as it was in 06, 3.57% as it was in 05, or maybe it will be 2.43% (.57% below 3.00%).
We do not know the eventual total amount of absentee ballots, but we'll stay conservative and go with only the number that have been delivered back. With that in mind, here are simple total vote projection models based on absentee ballot percentage.
3.57% - 149,328
Now you would think the number of the absentee ballots returned will at least increase somewhat. If let's say another 1,000 absentee ballots are returned (a completely arbitrary number),
Unfortunately, I could not find in either 05 or 06, the percentage of ballots returned. My estimate is that more ballots will be returned than usual. Reason is that with all the talk of a very close election and turnout deciding the winner, voters might actually think their vote can make a difference.
I would expect the same thinking of election day voters, "my vote can make a difference". As Kos put it, "what had been a boring race is proving loaded with last-minute drama."
My guess (based on this completely anecdotal evidence) is that turnout is going to be above 200,000... between 210,000 and 220,000 if I were making a bet.