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Virginia localities take precautions to protect voters, workers



Virginia localities are taking a number of precautions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 at polling places even though masks will not be required.

Saturday marked the last day to cast early, in-person ballots before Election Day, but voters can still cast in-person ballots on Nov. 3. They also can mail or return absentee ballots by that day. Election officials have been working to keep voters and workers safe during an election that has yielded a record number of early votes.

More than 5.9 million Virginians were registered to vote as of Oct. 1, with the cut off date in late October. Early voting commenced 45 days before Election Day, due to a new law. Legislators also recently changed laws to allow no-excuse absentee voting and made Election Day a state holiday. More than 2.7 million Virginians had voted as of Nov. 1, with around 1.8 million individuals voting or casting an absentee ballot in-person, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website. More than 886,000 voters have cast absentee ballots by mail and nearly 1.1 million mail-in ballots have been requested.

Voters are encouraged to wear a mask, and will be offered one, Andrea Gaines, director of community relations at the Virginia Department of Elections, said in an email. They will also be offered the opportunity to vote without leaving their vehicles.

“Ultimately, a voter will not be turned away if they are not wearing a mask but the Department strongly encourages them to do so to keep themselves and others around them safe,” Gaines said.

Even though there is a state mandate requiring individuals to wear masks when in close proximity with others, it’s against state law to “to hinder or delay a qualified voter in entering or leaving a polling place,” regardless of whether they have on a mask, Gaines said.

Poll workers and voters will be buffered with a number of measures. Such precautions include enforcing social distancing as well as placing plexiglass between voters and poll workers, according to Gary Scott, general registrar and director of the Fairfax County Office of Elections. Virginia Medical Reserve Corps volunteers will assist at polling places to ensure social distancing and sanitization measures are followed, according to Gov. Ralph Northam’s office.

Fairfax County workers will also have shields, gloves and masks, which will be replaced throughout the day, Scott said. To avoid the chance of voters sharing pens, Fairfax County will provide voters with “I voted” pens that they can use to fill out their ballots and keep instead of offering stickers.

The Virginia Department of Elections distributed $9 million in Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding that could be used to help secure personal protective equipment needed by local election offices, Gaines said.

In Charlottesville, poll workers will have sanitizing wipes and ponchos to help provide an extra layer of protection, said Taylor Yowell, the city’s deputy general registrar.

“We have plenty of sanitizing wipes and the sterilizing spray and paper towels in order to wipe down each polling booth after every voter throughout the day,” Yowell said.

Danville poll workers checking identification will be buffered by the use of a shower curtain placed on PVC pipe, said David Torborg, a chief poll worker at one of the city’s 16 precincts.

Torborg, who has been an election worker for about 20 years, decided to serve as an election worker again this year because he believes the precautions in place are good and will be enough to protect workers and voters from the coronavirus.

“I’m aware of COVID, I’m cautious as I can be,” Torborg said. “I’m not freaking out over it.”

Others, like former Danville poll worker JoAnn Howard, have decided against working at the polls this election to mitigate the chance of contracting the coronavirus.

“I was given the option and I did feel guilty because I’ve been working the polls for 10 years, and I really enjoy it,” Howard said. “Something could go wrong, I just didn’t want to take a risk.”

Election workers in Fairfax County are trained every three years or when laws impacting election workers or voters change, Scott said. The county has been training election workers since July on how to follow and implement social distancing measures. In Charlottesville, training sessions for new election officers were kept small to stay within Centers for Disease Control guidelines.

“All election officers do get trained on protection and making sure they’re wiping down, sanitizing,” Yowell said. “Our chiefs get trained more thoroughly with helping with de-escalation and sanitizing throughout the day.”

Virginia Department of Elections also provides training along with each locality’s specific training, Gaines said over email.

Around half of registered voters had voted in Fairfax and Charlottesville, according to Scott and Yowell.

Around 9,000 people have voted in Charlottesville as of Oct. 28. Around 5,000 to 6,000 mail-in ballots were sent out, Yowell said. The number of in-person and absentee requests accounts for nearly half of the city’s 33,000 active registered voters.

“We’ve already gone over 50% of our anticipated turnout in five days of in-person voting,” Scott said. “We anticipate close to 60% of our voters will have voted prior to elections.”

By Sam Fowler
Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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Warren County girls basketball: Senior Night 2021



On Monday, January 18th, the Warren County girls basketball team recognized their senior athletes during Senior Night prior to their game against the William Monroe Dragons. The game was intense and ended in a win for Monroe with a final score of 48-64. Prior to the varsity game, Warren County hosted Senior Night for their three seniors on the team, Mackenzi Bates, Kaylee Mondrone and Kara Mondrone.

Warren County girls basketball team played against William Monroe and also celebrated their seniors.

The WC gym was decorated with posters and balloons for the Senior Night celebration. Each senior walked across the gym with two people of their choice and gave a short speech about their achievements as well as their intentions after high school. Kara and Kaylee Mondrone are twins and walked together. The three seniors are very tight knit and Bates stated that she “went to elementary school with Kara and Kaylee, the other two seniors,” and that “It’s been so fun having them by my side and making memories for so many years, and it’s insane we are already seniors.”

In past years, Senior Night has been an exciting event and the gym would be packed for the celebration. Unfortunately, Covid-19 limited the spectators for the event which led to a different type of celebration for the seniors on the team. Kara Mondrone showed appreciation for being able to play at all this year and said “I‘m grateful that I’m able to finish out my last year and be a part of the team for one last time. Even if Senior Night wasn’t exactly normal, I’m happy we had it and it will always be something I will remember.”

The three seniors were starters on the court and led the Wildcats against the Dragons. William Monroe player Ella Weaver demonstrated great skill as she scored a total of 31 points against Warren County. Jamie Kelly scored 15 points for Warren County and had 5 steals.

Despite the loss, Kaylee Mondrone shared her love for the team and said “what I love about our team this year is that we are all friends outside of basketball. We all bond together, including the coaches.” The team has many more games to play this season and will certainly need to use that bond on the court.

The game was live-streamed by Wildcats Live! on Tickets can be purchased for $7/viewership subscription and include high quality video and exciting commentary.

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Community Events

Warren Coalition postpones Youth Have Talent competition



Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Warren Coalition has decided to postpone the Youth Have Talent 2021 competition.  Pre-registration is still required; potential participants are encouraged to begin the process by emailing Ryan Cubbage at The new registration deadline, along with the new audition dates, will be announced within the next several weeks.

Warren Coalition is a nonprofit agency established in 1994 to help fill the gaps in health care and substance abuse awareness to the community. The Coalition began under the guidance of Warren Memorial Hospital as an outreach project, but it has since grown and was incorporated in 2001.  The office is currently located in the Warren County Community Center.  Their mission is to make Warren County a safe, healthy, and drug-free community through many programs and in collaboration with 15+ member agencies.

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Front Royal man pleads guilty to dealing two fatal doses of fentanyl-laced heroin



A Front Royal, Virginia man, who in the fall of 2017 distributed two fatal, fentanyl-laced doses of heroin, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg to a drug charge that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison, and the possibility of a life sentence, Acting United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar, Special Agent in Charge Jarod A. Forget of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington Division, and the Warren County Sheriff’s Office, announced.

Glenn Eugene Sovereign Jr., 43, of Front Royal, pleaded guilty today to two counts of distributing fentanyl.  Because the recipient of the distribution died from overdose by ingesting the fentanyl within, Sovereign faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum possible statutory penalty of life at sentencing.

Glenn Eugene Sovereign Jr. Photo / RSW Regional Jail

“When Sovereign trafficked fentanyl-laced heroin to an already-vulnerable group of people, he perpetuated their addiction and despair, and ultimately caused their death,” Acting United States Attorney Bubar stated today.  “Because of the hard work and persistence of our federal and state partners, Sovereign has been brought to justice and will spend the better part of his life in federal prison.”

“The threat fentanyl brings to our Virginia neighborhoods and families cannot be overstated. With overdoses across the area spiking in the past year, DEA Washington Division has been working hard to investigate and arrest egregious criminals such as this, who are blatantly distributing poisonous drugs and spreading death and violence across our communities.”

Sovereign admitted today that in the fall of 2017 he made regular trips from Front Royal, Virginia to Baltimore, Maryland in order to purchase heroin.

On October 24, 2017, Sovereign met with victim E.R. in Front Royal. E.R. purchased a small packet of heroin from Sovereign which contained fentanyl. Later that night, E.R. ingested the contents of the packet, and as a result died.

On or about October 25, 2017, Sovereign traveled to Baltimore to meet his source of supply, where he purchased one gram of heroin. When Sovereign returned to Front Royal, he met with victim N.C. at Sovereign’s residence where he and N.C. ingested 4-5 Ritalin pills together. Later, before Sovereign left for work, he provided N.C. with a small packet of heroin, which contained fentanyl. On or about October 26, 2017, N.C. ingested the contents of the packet, and she died.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration and Warren County Sheriff’s Office.  Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh is prosecuting the case for the United States.

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‘Polar Plunge’ launches 2021 Humane Society programs as spay-neuter clinic fundraising progresses



Two major events, one to make money, the other to spend, were launched this month by the Humane Society of Warren County (HSWC) while a look in the rear-view mirror focused on a highly successful 2020 despite the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

Executive Director Meghan Bowers, beginning just her third year on the job, announced the date of the second annual Polar Plunge – February 20 – which already has five sponsors and 35 swimmers lined up for a wintertime dip in the frigid waters of Culpeper Lake at the 4-H Center, south of town. Bowers floated the first winter swim last year, an outstanding success financially and for swimmers and onlookers alike that raised more than $10,000.

Polar Plungers, circa 2020, head in for an invigorating dip as family and friends record the event for posterity. Courtesy Photos HSWC

“We’re setting a target of $12,000 this year,” Bowers said, while at the same time proclaiming a healthy start to a campaign to establish a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in downtown Front Royal. “This will have a huge impact on the lives of animals and their people in our community,” she said.

Within just a couple of weeks of a campaign to raise $125,000 as startup money for the clinic, $109,000 is already promised or in hand and interviewing of potential staff members begins next week. Inquiries about the proposed veterinary clinic have already been received by other rescue groups, Bowers said. Until now, spay/neuter candidates have been shipped to Harrisonburg twice a month in lots of about 80 animals per trip.

Looking back on the year of the pandemic, Bowers provided interesting information and impressive statistics including 678 adoptions of mostly dogs and cats, many new “foster families”, three pet food distributions serving 289 families, and the preservation of the title “no-kill” shelter with a 95.6% live release rate.

HSWC Executive Director Meghan Bowers gives a little hands-on seasonal attention to Wagner Shelter resident.

For most of the year, visits to the shelter were confined to “appointments only” due to the virus, but plenty of work for the staff which, Bowers said, was fully retained through the pandemic months of 2020.

Of the upcoming “Polar Plunge,” Bowers named the sponsors – City National Bank, Cool Techs Heating and Air, Ellen Aders State Farm, AirPac, MDUB Chauffer Services, and Cavalier Kennels. Aders is the president of HSWC. Of the 35 individuals already committed to the plunge – and seeking personal sponsorship money – there are 15 newcomers to the chilly sport including Bowers (look for the shark among the costumed entrants) and 20 returning plungers. Molly Llewellyn of Front Royal was the top money earner last year with exactly $1,000. So far, Bowers confided, she has $467 in sponsorship money.

Above, a shark awaits the plunge of a family of penguins – the potentially hazardous encounter ended well though, as predator and prey formed a Polar Plunge bond. Below, maybe it’s time to get back to dry land, some 2020 Polar Plungers decide, besides we’re not sure we can trust that shark.

The HSWC is a non-profit agency that houses homeless, neglected, abused and unwanted animals, in business since 1947. While primarily dealing with cats and dogs, the shelter has also been home to horses, other livestock, birds, reptiles and more.

For more information, visit

These six Polar Plungers are all smiles under relatively balmy 2020 winter skies – will they be as lucky this year?

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Community Events

Volunteers turn Day of Service into an effort to cleanup part of Warren County



Rea with Eric and his sons are ready to fill some trash bags

Roadside trash includes fast food containers, plastic bags, lighters, butts, bottles, cans, and Styrofoam.

As part of this year’s National Day of Service, a group of folks from Warren County decided to clean up sections of Route 522 between Robin Lane and Gate 3 of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.  It was a perfect day for the cleanup, with temperatures above freezing and into the 40s, and little wind or precipitation.  One big advantage of doing a cleanup at this time of year is that you can go into the underbrush and not worry about encountering a snake, or dealing with ticks, spiders, etc.  In addition, with the leaves off the trees and bushes, it is easier to spot trash.

Most of the cleanup crew members met at Mountain Home B&B about 10am on January 18th, dressed for the weather and wearing good boots for tromping along the side of the road and into the brush.  Mountain Home provided trash bags and gloves, and offered a free Gatorade or Vitamin Water for each volunteer.  The B&B owners also assured participants that they would transport all the bags of trash to one of Warren County’s five refuse/recycle collection sites.  Several participants also helped with taking pictures to commemorate the event.

Steve shows what’s already in the bag

The road section that was cleaned up includes the Appalachian Trail road crossing and parking area, but that wasn’t where most of the trash was found.  Cigarette butts, glass and plastic bottles, beverage cans, Styrofoam cups and plastic lids and straws, were distributed fairly evenly across the entire stretch of roadway, indicating that some people in vehicles must be tossing these items out their windows as they drive along.  One brand of beer kept showing up again and again, leading us to wonder if one person was throwing a beer bottle out the window every day.  Other items collected appeared to be construction debris that was not carefully strapped down and then flew out of trucks as they began to accelerate.

Most of the trash bags headed to the refuse collection site

Rea and Lisa prep to pick up trash

Smokers may not realize that tossing their butts out the window or on the ground (unless it is on your own private property) is littering and is against the law.  The filters, made up of plasticized cellulose acetate, do not biodegrade and can last for many years.

Besides being gross, and littering being illegal, the trash isn’t good for the local wildlife either.  It can be eaten by fish, birds, and insects, cause suffocation, and eventually get into our streams and contribute to pollution in our oceans.  Plastics and Styrofoam are particularly troublesome as they do not biodegrade, but just break into smaller and smaller pieces that make them even more likely to be consumed in the ecosystem.  Trash on our roadsides will not help bring visitors into our county and town, or help local businesses, or bring tax revenue into our local government.

Rea stands ready to tote some trash

The only excuse for littering is laziness and disrespect.  If we love our country, and love our county, we need to stop trashing it!

Disposing of trash properly (and reducing the Styrofoam and plastic packaging that you buy in the first place) helps keep it out of the environment and helps make Warren County a nicer place to live.  The 12 roadside cleanup volunteers did a fantastic job today, collecting roughly a dozen big, contractor bags of trash, and a few larger items like car parts and a cabinet panel. There are several places around Warren County where trash seems to accumulate at an alarming rate, and this stretch of 522 is one of them.  Any time you want to get out and make a difference, you can grab a trash bag and just pick up trash.  Just be sure to take each bag to a refuse/recycle collection site when you are done.

Steve extracts bottles from the brush

The National Day of Service is now a tradition each year on the 3rd Monday in January, Martin Luther King Day, to honor the life of Rev. Martin Luther King, who “sought equality and human rights for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and all victims of injustice through peaceful protest.”  (The History Channel website)

Susan and Lisa are ready to tackle the terrain

Several groups interested in service projects and/or caring for creation were specifically invited to participate, but everyone was welcome.  There were representatives from the Warren County Democratic committee (WCDC), the Warren Front Royal Appalachian Trail (WFRAT) Committee, Calvary Episcopal Church and even an Appalachian Trail hiker who stopped by to help.  If you or your group are interested in helping with the MLK roadside cleanup next year, or with other roadside cleanups, please contact Lisa Jenkins of Mountain Home B&B at

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Sheriff seeks to commit more departmental resources to county’s war on drugs in withdrawal from regional task force



It is a simple matter of trying to more effectively impact the local war on drug abuse, with no animosity or a disconnect from cooperative efforts across county, or even task force, lines implied, Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler told Royal Examiner of the pending February 1 withdrawal of the department from the Northwestern Regional Drug Task Force.

“If you do the same thing over and over and get the same result and keep doing it expecting a different result, you know what they say,” Butler observed with a laugh. That “same result” since taking office two years ago were rising drug overdoses at the point of the county’s expansive hard drug problem.

Butler said his department will devote more personnel directly to interdiction efforts than the five officers previously tied to task force operations. “There is no animosity with the task force. We are just circling our wagons and focusing on giving Warren County our best effort. We have 26 guys and plan to use them in our interdiction effort. And we are still in touch with other agencies,” Butler said, pointing to surrounding county sheriff’s departments. Among those is Fauquier County directly to our east, which the sheriff noted is in a different regional task force, Blue Ridge, than the Northwestern his department and the Town of Front Royal have been in over the years.

Hey, let’s give it a try, Warren County Sheriff Mark Butler says of move away from regional drug task force to bringing more departmental resources directly to bare on fighting county drug problem. Royal Examiner File Photo

Front Royal’s Town Police will continue their efforts within the Northwestern Regional Drug and Gang Task Force. Minus Warren County, in addition to the Town of Front Royal, the Northwestern Regional Drug and Gang Task Force includes law enforcement agencies from Page, Shenandoah, Frederick and Clarke Counties, the City of Winchester, and Towns of Strasburg and Luray.

Sheriff Butler’s belief is that with such a widespread focus, sometimes details of the problem in specific jurisdictions can be lost or perhaps left too long to fester. But were long-term statistics to indicate a reversal of the recent trend toward beneficial results from increased departmental attention over the second half of 2020, the decision can always be revisited.

However, the sheriff said since an altered, more expansive focus began being put into effect within his department, overdoses have decreased and street arrests have increased over the past two quarters. Statistics are still being assembled on the altered impact over the past year, he noted. That effort began in last year’s second quarter with the arrival of Lt. Snyder. The sheriff pointed to Snyder’s 27 years of experience and the consequent formation of a drug enforcement unit within the WCSO.

The decision was not a financial one, Sheriff Butler said. Current jurisdictional contributions amount to just over $10,000 annually. Butler reiterated that the decision reached internally was to expand and refocus his department’s resources on the rising and sometimes fatal drug problem inside our county borders.

However, Sheriff Butler reiterated that the decision did not mean cutting his department off from its neighboring jurisdictions, or even task force efforts. He said he maintains regular contact with several nearby county sheriffs, adding, “And I can assure you if the Task Force calls and says it needs extra bodies, the Warren County Sheriff’s Office will assist.

“We will keep the lines of communications open. The only way to combat this is by working together,” Sheriff Butler said – just not solely within task force parameters he believes.

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