Richmond voters unprepared for ballot initiatives

Liz Butterfield
Assistant News Editor

VCU students who went to local polls on Tuesday not only voted on presidential candidates and congressional members, but also helped to appoint new city council members, school board representatives and decide on two proposed Virginia constitutional amendments.

Although many students were prepared for the presidential election, few felt they were educated enough to vote on other ballot questions.

Alongside the national races, Richmond City ballots included candidates for city council seats, school board representatives and two proposed Virginia constitutional amendments.

“I didn’t even know we were going to do constitutional amendments this year,” said Courtney Stewart, a senior political science major.

Proudly sporting a sweatshirt that read “Myth Romney,” Stewart said she cast her vote in Richmond City on Tuesday primarily based on Virginia budget issues and women’s rights. Although prepared for the congressional and presidential candidates on the ballot, Stewart did not know enough about the school board candidates and hadn’t heard about the proposed constitutional amendment issues also on the ballot before Election Day.

“Luckily I knew those amendments from class so it wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of what the amendment was, I just didn’t know those amendments were up to be (voted on),” she said.

One of the two amendments on the ballot was a proposal to put into the constitution pre-existing eminent domain legislation that would make it harder for the government to take private property from citizens. The second amendment would allow to delay the veto session of the Virginia General Assembly up to a seventh week. Virginians overwhelmingly voted to approve both amendments.

Transfer student Maurice Singleton was also surprised by the large amount of voting measures on his ballot, in particular the amendments.

“I knew who I was voting for so I had my confidence … for the president. But the Senate and the other stuff that was going on, I really was unsure about that kind of stuff,” said Singleton.

Singleton, a physical education major originally from Cleveland, Ohio, said the first time he had heard about the other ballot issues was when the ballot was directly in front of him during his vote.

“There was nothing I could do, I couldn’t leave it blank,” he said. While he could have abstained, Singleton made a choice on the representatives and amendment issues even though he was not prepared. “I just went with my gut,” he said.

Parker Agelasto was chosen to be the new representative to Richmond City Council for the 5th District. He said he knows student voters play a major role in local elections, especially in his district. During his campaign, Agelasto walked door-to-door talking to voters and registering students to vote at their current address.

“We have to do a better job of bringing VCU students into the community,” Agelasto said. Agelasto tried to educate voters on the job of the city council and make them aware of their importance in the local elections. Many VCU students reside in the 2nd, 5th and 6th districts. Agelasto, a museum consultant and adjunct professor with the University of Virginia, feels that in order to get students to actively participate in local elections, it’s about engaging them on their level and on their time.

“For the most part, a student is not all that familiar so it’s the role for someone to provide them with information,” said Agelasto. Although Agelasto did not bring up the school board election or constitutional amendment issues during his campaign, he did distribute democratic sample ballots at Randolph community center, a major polling location for VCU students, and answered questions about what the ballot issues meant.

Agelasto cited weak awareness efforts by the Virginia General Assembly and little media attention to the amendments in advance of the election as reasons why many voters were unprepared for the ballot measures.

“I do not think our legislative branch did enough to let people know what it was,” said Agelasto.

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