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Read more VPM News coverage of the historic 2023 elections in Virginia.

Casino, abortion rights are top of mind for some Southside voters

Scott Elmquist
VPM News
A person votes at the Hickory Hill Community Center in Richmond, Virginia on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.

VPM News spoke to about 10 voters in Richmond before 7 a.m. Here's what they said.

VPM News spoke to about 10 voters before 7 a.m. in Richmond’s Southside outside a couple of polling sites. The majority said they were voting for the casino proposal — including Walter Cobb, who lives just a few minutes from where he cast his vote at Hickory Hill Community Center.

“I really do believe for the Southside community, it’s really going to help. We’ve been overlooked for a while, this is our chance to get good jobs,” Cobb said. “It’s a plus in my opinion.”

Cobb voted for the casino referendum in 2021 as well, and said he really hopes this year it comes through.

Everyone who VPM News spoke with who voted for it in 2021 also planned to vote for it again this year — citing more jobs and revenue for the city as well as other features of the casinodevelopment other than gambling. Southside voters overwhelmingly supported the casino referendum in 2021, while 68% of voters in the West End vetoed it.

Corwin Folkes
The 2021 casino referendum results were narrow, but ultimately voters rejected the proposal.

Christine Gibson, a Southside Richmond resident, cast her yes casino vote at George Wythe High School early Tuesday. She said she’s excited for more restaurants, because options for a sit-down meal outside of fast-food chain establishments are limited in the area. She is also looking forward to the additional green space.

“I know it's going to offer a big 55-acre park for people to come out and enjoy, bring their families and not cost them anything but their time,” Gibson said.

The few who were against the casino told VPM News they didn’t think it would benefit the community. They said they didn’t support gambling in general — like Carl Howard, who lives down the street from the Hickory Hill Community Center.

“I don't think that casinos are good for anybody,” Howard told VPM News. “You work hard for your money, and what do you do? You give it to them?”

Those who voted against it two years ago, like Howard, were also voting against it today — except for one woman VPM News spoke with. Bellemeade resident Anna Miller said she was on the fence about the casino proposal before going into the Hickory Hill Community Center to vote.

“You know, I actually haven’t quite made up my mind on that,” Miller told VPM News. “I’m gonna decide when I get in there.”

Miller said she’d heard arguments on both sides — with friends who are against the casino and neighbors who are for it. She’d voted against the casino in 2021 but said what’s different this year is that she’s had more one-on-one conversations with neighbors who support it.

“My neighbors want it, so it might be time to change,” Miller told VPM News.

She later told VPM News she ended up voting for the casino proposal because of what she heard from her neighbors.

Another issue on her mind was abortion — she planned to vote for Democratic candidates to preserve abortion rights policies.

“I'm definitely for choice, for my own bodily autonomy,” Miller said. “So I want to make sure that that remains intact in this community and in the state.”

Abortion also came up for voters at George Wythe High School. Courtney Woods, an OB/GYN student who lives near Forest Hill Park, said the issue is what got her to the polls.

“Virginia is one of the last remaining states in the South that allows later-term abortions for any number of reasons, which are very, very important for both maternal health and family health,” Woods told VPM News. “It's really important that we remain this safe haven for the country and for the South."

Current Virginia law allows abortions until around the 27th week of pregnancy. After the third trimester begins, three physicians are required to certify that a pregnant person could be killed or have their physical or mental health substantially harmed before an abortion is performed.

A couple of voters said they generally didn’t like the way the U.S. was being run at a national level, which influenced their decision to vote for Republican candidates this year. An issue on their minds was immigration.

The only other local issue that came up: gun control. Southside resident Teri Washington said he thinks local officials should be doing more to get guns out of the hands of young people in Richmond.

“There are too many kids out here with guns,” Washington said. “That’s the main thing.”

Megan Pauly covers education and health care issues in the greater Richmond region.
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