Katharine DeRosa, Staff Writer
“Every vote counts.”
Junior mass communications major Selena Shaw echoed the popular sentiment when asked why she decided to vote. Amid what has been called the most important election in our nation’s history, voting has been encouraged by VCU and nearly every public organization.
Shaw and her roommate, junior homeland security and criminal justice major Kaylee Penn, voted at the University Student Commons on Tuesday morning. The pair said they cast ballots in support of Democrat nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Shaw and Penn said in their opinion, the last presidential election didn’t have a favorable outcome, and the two wanted to use their vote to elect a new president.
“He speaks a lot out of instinct without actually thinking before he talks,” Penn said of President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection.
This year’s November general election included a variety of races. Virginians cast their votes for president, one U.S. Senate seat, and all of the commonwealth’s 11 U.S. representatives. Locally, U.S. House seats in Virginia’s 4th and 7th districts were up for grabs. Richmonders voted on four-year terms for mayor, city council and school board representatives in the city’s nine districts.
Students at VCU voiced concerns about racial equality, increasing student debt and health care. COVID-19 caused early widespread voting with more than 2.7 million Virginians voting early, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. In the 2016 presidential election, about 560,000 people voted absentee.
Zachary Deuell, VCU medical student and president of student organization Medicine with Pride, said he’s been in Richmond the past 10 years. Deuell said he and his partner are focused on LGBTQ rights this election cycle.
“Pretty much everything Trump stands for is not something I can vote for or identify with,” Deuell said.
Deuell said while Biden is a great candidate, he is more excited by having Sen. Kamala Harris on the ballot.
“I’m hoping that this is a stepping stone for her in the future,” Deuell said.
In terms of local elections, Deuell said he felt conflicted. Deuell said he voted for VCU alumna Alexsis Rodgers because Mayor Levar Stoney has not “held up his promises to the Richmond community.”
As of seven days before the election, more than 281,000 early votes were cast by Virginians under the age 30, according to a study by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. In the 2016 general election, around 629,000 total votes were cast by the same age group.
VCU Votes, a group of university students and staff, created a voting information landing page that included a calendar of school events, important deadlines, polling locations and transportation options. The organization coordinates voter-engagement events to increase civic engagement among students.
Junior history major David Schafer is a member of College Republicans at VCU. He voted early by mail and was spending the day canvassing for Leon Benjamin Sr., the Republican candidate for Virginia’s 4th Congressional District.
Schafer said he is drawn to Benjamin because he supports the Second Amendment and is a pastor. He said it feels good to be a part of College Republicans and “go against the grain.”
“I love America, and I feel like there’s a hostile rhetoric against it right now,” Schafer said. “I’m just doing everything I can to show my support.”
Sophomore biology major Ross Adams was canvassing for his former UNIV 111 and 112 professor Stephanie Rizzi, who is running for the Richmond’s 5th District school board seat. Adams voted absentee and said he is not normally involved in politics, but was eager to support Rizzi.
“She’s compassionate,” Adams said. “She really believes in communication between teachers, students and parents.”
Adams said he would like to see COVID-19 handled in a way that allows students to safely return to in-person classes.
Junior and senior music performance majors Myles Baldwin and Patrick Gadams both said they voted early to avoid crowds at polls. Gadams voted at Richmond City Hall, and Baldwin voted at home in the Hampton area.
Polling places on Tuesday in the downtown Richmond area included the University Student Commons, the Institute for Contemporary Art, Randolph Community Center and other buildings that allowed for social distancing.
Gadams said they’re passionate about climate, health care and racial justice in the election.
“I feel that in a developed society like ours, it makes no sense why healthcare shouldn’t be a guaranteed right to all people,” Gadams said.
Baldwin said he was primarily concerned with protection of marginalized communities. Biden wasn’t Baldwin’s first choice of presidential candidate, but Baldwin still supports him over Trump.
“I feel like this current administration has very clearly shown that they don’t care when it comes to protecting the rights of those who don’t align with their own identities,” Baldwin said.
Gadams, who is registered in Richmond, said they’re hopeful Rodgers will win the mayoral race.
“I think that she actually will listen to all of the people in Richmond,” Gadams said.