RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia voters headed to the polls in chilly weather Tuesday morning to elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and General Assembly representatives. In interviews with VCU’s iPadJournos reporting project, Democratic voters in Central Virginia criticized President Donald Trump and expressed the need to keep the governor’s mansion occupied with a Democrat, while Republican voters cast their ballot for change in Virginia.
Four years ago, Democrats won all three statewide offices, while Republicans continued to control the General Assembly. Now, it is expected that the races between Ralph Northam and Ed Gillespie for governor, Justin Fairfax and Jill Vogel for lieutenant governor as well as Mark Herring and John Adams for attorney general will be tight and not called until later in the evening. The polls will remain open until 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
Read in the following how voters in the City of Richmond as well as in Henrico, Chesterfield and Hanover counties made their decisions at the ballot boxes.
Polling stations in the City of Richmond
Early morning voters at George W. Carver Elementary School on West Leigh Street in Richmond were motivated by the national political climate to cast their vote in this election. Voters for each party expressed enthusiasm for their candidates and about the outcome of the election.
While Republican voters were inspired to vote by the results of the last presidential election, Democratic voters said they turned up to vote in protest of the current president.
Voter Sam Forrest, 81, is a retired real estate agent who identifies as politically conservative, but socially liberal.
He said national politics played heavily into his decision to vote for Republican candidate Ed Gillespie, because of his endorsement by President Donald Trump.
“I love Donald Trump. He is the messiah as far as I am concerned,” Forrest said.
Other Gillespie supporters, like Anthony Gall, 36, an aspiring small business owner, cited their dislike and distrust of Democratic candidate Ralph Northam as the reason for aligning themselves with the Republican ticket.
Gall said that he was worried Democrats would implement policies which would make his dream of becoming a business owner impossible.
“They wanted a bunch of policies that I could not get behind," Gall said. “Policies that involved overreach of the government into civil liberties and way too much taxation.”
Skyler Broughman, 27, an administrative manager, voted for Northam because he supports his stance on gun control laws and women’s rights, which he said are the most important issues to him today.
“It’s a woman’s rights issue. It’s a woman’s right to choose. There shouldn’t be a bunch of old white men sitting somewhere making choices for women, not matter their age, color, creed, anything. No one should be speaking for them.”
Though he said Democrats aren’t inherently the right choice, Christopher McDaniel decided to vote for the party in this election because he disapproves of the political ads Ed Gillespie recently released, which attempted to tie Northam to an international Hispanic gang called MS-13.
“My big thing against Gillespie is his racist fear-mongering. He is honestly trying to rile up negative emotions towards immigrants,” said McDaniel.
Joe Sandvig, 58, who cast his ballot for Northam, said this election was important because it was his first time being able to participate in an election since having his voting rights restored by Gov. Terry McAuliffe this year. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long, long time,” Sanvig said. “I got my rights back, and I just feel like I’m part of the country.”
Voters at the polling station at Celebration Church and Outreach Center on Midlothian Turnpike in Southside Richmond voted majority for Democratic candidates and showed passion about the importance of the gubernatorial election.
“I used to never vote. I vote all the time now,” said Rebecca Bannon, 22, assistant manager of a dog daycare.
Voters said that they came out specifically due to the controversies surrounding President Trump.
“We need to all play our part, because if we don’t, we will be stuck in the predicament that we are in now,” said Tyrone Walters, 27.
But some Republican voters still stand by the president’s side.
Susan Morgan, 64, who works for an organization that aids immigrants, said that she feels there need to be stronger regulations on who comes into country. She also based her voting decision on social issues.
“I voted Republican because I’m against abortions [and] I like to keep God in this, and I feel like Democrats like to keep God out of everything,” she said.
Betty Ingram, 72, who does volunteer work for different youth groups in Richmond, said her vote for Northam is not meant to be against Donald Trump personally, but she believes that the people who are in power need to be mindful of what they say and how they say it. “I voted for the Democratic party mainly because of what they can do for me,” Ingram said.
Polling stations in Henrico County
Voters at Henrico’s Mills E. Godwin High School on Pump Road were vocal in speaking about how important it is to let one’s voice be heard through voting in today’s divisive political climate.
Alex Keisch, 72, a retired merchant sea captain, said voting is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, because it’s not a freedom everyone enjoys.
“I feel like it’s not just an obligation, it’s a privilege,” Keisch said. “I was born in a concentration camp in Poland just as (World War II) was ending, and there were a lot of people there who didn’t have a word in what was going to happen to them, so I feel it’s important for us to have our say.”
Lauren D’Urso, 28, an administrative assistant, said it’s important to vote because of what it means for Virginia’s children and their future.
“This year has, in my opinion, taken a really hard turn,” she said. “I feel like this is the only way we can make a difference. Threatening people with all that violence is not going to do anything. “I’m a teacher, and we teach kids not to use violence and let our hands speak for us. We have to let our words speak for us,” D’Urso added. “Hopefully this will help and we’ll have a better year next year.”
Matt Hill, 29, an IT consultant, said the importance of voting was simply part of every American’s civic duty.
“I’ve voted in every election since I was 18,” he said. “That’s just what you do.”
Hill added he decided to vote for Gillespie after having the opportunity to sit down with him last month to discuss his policies.
“I actually had a chance to meet him at the Seafood Festival,” Hill said. “I talked to him a little bit about what his plan was and what his vision was for Virginia and was pretty impressed.”
John Lyons-Harrison, 24, a Minor League Baseball videographer, said his decision to come out to the polls this morning revolved around showing his opposition to the current president and his policies. “I just basically voted for whoever was the opposite of who Trump told me to vote for,” he said. “Trump said to vote for Gillespie, so I voted for Northam.”
Before heading to work, many voters also rushed through the polling station at Varina Elementary School on New Market Road in eastern Henrico. Voters there were split between Gillespie and Northam, but many said that the outcome of last year’s presidential election drove them to the polls this time.
Sheila Ann Smith voted for Northam.
She said that it was his morals that won her over. While she thinks that he will be a wonderful governor, another factor for her decision was Trump’s victory in the presidential election.
“I’m a little tired of all of the rhetoric, and the tweeting and all of the things that our president does,” said Smith. “I just think that it’s time for a change, and I think Ralph Northam can bring that change.”
Marjorie Marshall, 74, said that she voted for Gillespie for the opposite reason.
She likes what Gillespie stands for, but more importantly she said that “[Trump’s] the man.”
Addie Briggs, 48, a pediatrician, voted for Northam because of his policies regarding children’s health care, and making sure they get the attention and treatment that they need. She said that she sees this election as particularly important to combat the candidates that support President Trump.
“I think [Trump is] embarrassing to our country because the world watches, and in some of the comments … he doesn’t act like a president and he doesn't represent the president of the United States,” said Briggs. “He definitely doesn't represent my views and beliefs.”
Janice Holmes, a Northam supporter, also addressed her issues with Trump directly: “He has to go.”
Polling stations in Chesterfield County
Voters came slowly to the polls on Tuesday morning at Swift Creek Middle School on Old Hundred Road in Chesterfield. Northam and the Democratic ticket received strong support from voters even though Republican canvassers outnumbered the single Northam canvasser at the polling station.
President Trump and the current political climate in the country were top deciding factors at the polls. “I am dismayed with the way our government is running our country and we need somebody new,” said voter Laurie VanCleve, 51, an event planner.
Anne Farnum, 66, a retiree, said she her vote was a message to Trump. “I wanted to send a message to Washington that I was not happy with the way the Washington thing is going,” Farum said.
But some voters at the polling station also said that social issues were a deciding factor for their vote. “I won't look at any other issues,” said Leonard Mottley, 68, a retiree. “I cannot vote for anyone who supports abortion,” Mottley said. “I cannot support Northam, who’s a pediatrician who supports abortion.”
Many of the voters interviewed at the polling station at Thelma Crenshaw Elementary School on Bailey Bridge Road were supporters of the Republican ticket. Kenneth Munford, 71, a retiree, said he voted for Gillespie. His motivation?
“Basically putting people back to work, and rights on our second amendment, and the whole constitution for that matter,” Munford said.
Ricky R. Mitchell, 60, an environmental worker, is for education initiatives and “having voting rights restored, the right to vote, and making voting easier not harder.” He hopes Northam, Justin Fairfax, and Herring will win their races.
Steve Walker, 49, a mechanic, said that “fiscal responsibility, less taxes, and state agencies under control” are important issues to him. “Put a Republican back in state, and voting is a fundamental right of being an American.” He also wants the elected officials to “stop being afraid and do your jobs.” Several other Chesterfield voters like Walker also suggested putting Republicans back in office.
“I think it’s important for people to exercise that vote since we have people who fought and died for that right. Regardless if you are left or right, I think it’s important if you do get out and vote,” Walker said.
Polling stations in Hanover County
Voters in Hanover County generally lean Republican, but there were also some Democratic and Libertarian voters at the polls at Atlee High School on Atlee Station Road and Kersey Creek Elementary School on Learning Lane on Tuesday morning.
Laura Hamilton, 41, an account executive for an insurance, said she voted Republican in the gubernatorial race.
“I voted for Ed Gillespie because I believe in his values,” Hamilton said. “I have four children, I am a Christian and I believe in life and that is why I chose Ed Gillespie today.”
Barbara Seymour, 60, an insurance agent, said it’s important to vote so that we can have a say in what’s happening. “I went with the Democratic party,” Seymour said. “I believe we are on the same wavelength for ideas and where the state as well as the country should head. I was set right from the beginning on who I was voting for in the presidential election, and this election.”
Jean Abinanti, 45, a librarian, said she wanted to defeat Trumpism with her vote. “I voted for Ralph Northam,” Abinanti said. “I mean Gillespie has this slogan that he’s for all Americans, and I really think he’s only for Americans who are white and Christian. We’re a lot more diverse than that. He wasn’t Trump’s lap dog.”
Charles Curry, 80, said that we would be enslaved if people didn’t get out and vote. “I voted straight Republican today,” Curry said. His dislike for the other candidate influenced his vote. “I got a really bad impression about the other guy from his television ads. He wasn’t too connected.” Curry also said that Trump didn’t influence his vote, but he is impressed with his administration so far.
Michael Goodman, 35, an economist and husband of candidate Morgan Goodman, said he feels it’s important to vote as the government affects the lives of people every day.
“I voted for Cliff Hyra, the Libertarian,” Goodman said. “I believe that's he's for the best philosophy of government really. The libertarian party really. I think the Democrats and the Republicans both kind of believe the government is the solution, and they disagree on what the problems are. I think that Cliff and the Libertarians believe that people have more capacity to solve their problems, and if you give them the freedom to do it that they will come up with the right solutions.”
Goodman said that Trump has made him less inclined towards Republicans, but that it’s still a person-by-person situation. “I did vote for one Republican on the ballot this year, but I’m not a fan of (Trump) personally.”
This story was reported by Lia Tabackman, Megan Schiffres, Tanner Watts, Aya Driouche (from Richmond), Tyler Woodall, Nick Versaw, Sarah Honosky, Alexis Kennedy (from Henrico County)
Gary Haskins, Jessica Samuels, Annie Gallo, Alexandra Sosik (from Chesterfield County), Ashley Luck, Emma Sue Sims and Dai Já Norman (from Hanover County). These student reporters are part of the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project, a cooperation between WTVR.com and VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.