Metro Weekly

Virginia’s LGBTQ voters head to polls on Election Day

Across the commonwealth, LGBTQ voters say they're seeing a lot of enthusiasm for this year's elections

Voting, Photo: justgrimes / Flickr

When he stepped out of his house early this morning, Fairfax County resident BJ Bundy was on a mission, making a stop by his local precinct in Franconia to send a message with his vote.

“I’m an angry voter,” says Bundy. “Angry at the current administration. So I was planning to get out and vote no matter what.”

Bundy, who is gay, says he voted for the Democratic candidates for statewide office, largely because he does not trust the Republican candidates seeking office not to sign harmful or controversial legislation, particularly on social issues, including LGBTQ rights. In his House of Delegates district, Del. Mark Sickles (D-Franconia) is running unopposed.

Interestingly, despite living in vote-rich Fairfax County, Bundy said he had not received any contact or even mailers from any candidates, including the gubernatorial campaigns for Ed Gillespie (R) and Ralph Northam (D). When he arrived at his precinct, he said there was not much of a line and he was able to vote quickly and without any issues.

Donald Berrier, 53, a gay man living in Triangle, Va., says he also received no contact from any campaigns, though he attributed that to having moved recently from Maryland and only being a relatively new voter. 

Berrier marched down to his local precinct, Triangle, at 7:15 a.m. He says there were about 30 people in line, and a steady flow of people behind him as he left.

While Berrier doesn’t live in a district with a competitive House of Delegates race — Republicans chose not to run a candidate against Del. Luke Torian (D-Woodbridge) — he felt he could send a message with his vote for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

“My main issue was to make a statement against the Republican Party and trying to make the Democratic presence known in Virginia. At the moment, I feel that the Republican Party still seems to be the voice of business, while the Democratic Party represents individuals,” he says.

Berrier says he’s particularly concerned about an Ed Gillespie last-minute surge, similar to what happened in 2014 when he almost knocked off U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in a surprise upset.

“There’s this untapped, unpolled populism that seems sufficient to help Republicans win,” he says.

Michael Stakem, a 35-year-old from Fairfax County, says he voted at the Skyline precinct just prior to 8 a.m. Voting was “brisk,” he said, with a handful of people ahead and behind them. However, he says, that was more than he saw at his precinct two years ago when the Virginia Senate was up for re-election. 

Stakem says he voted for Democrats, including incumbent Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), who is one of only six sitting Democrats to receive a Republican challenge this year.

“It’s important to vote in general. But it’s especially important for LGBTQ people to vote because it’s part of our power as citizens to effect change,” he says. “We are historically a group that doesn’t flex our power as much, and so we’re at the mercy of other people who can pass policies that could harm us and our families.”

Stakem says what concerns him most about the prospect of gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie winning is that he doesn’t feel that the Republican values the contributions made by LGBTQ people, an attitude he fears will be adopted by others around him. 

“It’s not just the person at the head, it’s all the people they appoint, their staff and their views that can make policies that affect our everyday lives,” Stakem says. “So I’m concerned when someone in power doesn’t share my values.”

Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who is not up for re-election this year, was roaming around Alexandria visiting different precincts, and reported that his local precinct at George Washington Middle School had 6% turnout as of 7:30, just 90 minutes after polls opened. The precinct also had 300 absentee ballots, he reports.

Ebbin believes Democrats are going to see higher turnout this election, based on the number of canvassers and volunteers who have been focused on turning out reliable voters. For Democrats, retaining the governor’s mansion means they can have a say in redistricting — including drawing “fair” districts that are not as gerrymandered to favor Republican candidates. LGBTQ people are also motivated to vote, but for different reasons, he adds.

“We’ve seen some progress moving towards a state that’s closer to equality,” Ebbin says. “If the other side wins, that’s just not going to happen. The governor’s worked hard to make Virginia a welcoming state.”

That’s a sentiment echoed by Equality Virginia Advocates, the advocacy arm of LGBTQ organization Equality Virginia, who says that there are several races in which Equality Virginia members have expressed interest, including the candidacy of Danica Roem, who, if elected in District 13 against Del. Bob Marshall (R-Manassas) this evening, would become the first transgender person to serve in a state legislature in the United States.

“LGBT voters across the state are definitely energized for today’s elections,” James Parrish, EVA’s executive director, said in a statement. “Given his contributions to marriage equality, there’s high motivation to re-elect Mark Herring as Attorney General.  And with a historic number of out gay and lesbian candidates on the ballot, along with the possibility of electing the first in the nation transgender candidate for a state’s legislative body, we expect Virginia’s LGBT voters and their allies to make a strong showing at the polls.”

Eric Kelsey, 37, of Richmond, agrees that LGBTQ people are particularly tuned into today’s election.

“I work for a small company and they’re very supportive of my lifestyle. I recently got married in July. They know my husband. So I’m in a good situation, but for a lot of my friends, it’s a huge deal,” Kelsey says. “We are extremely passionate about the local and statewide races, because if Gillespie and [Lt. Gov. candidate Jill] Vogel, and especially [attorney General candidate John] Adams, were to enact the Republican platform — which is one of the most anti-LGBT platforms ever — it could mean people lose their jobs or property, or experience discrimination, or give others just the license to discriminate.

“This election is huge for my friends down here, especially in Central Virginia, because pretty much every county around us is red country,” he adds. “So you can go 10 miles from the city and find people who pretty much don’t care for us.”

Kelsey, who voted at Precinct 401 in Richmond early this morning, says the turnout at his precinct was light, but that’s not surprising, as most of his neighbors tend to vote later in the day.

“I vote in every single election, no matter how small it is. But I’m particularly invested this year because of a campaign that I consider to be just beyond the pale by Ed Gillespie, comparing Northam to a child pornographer, taking a page out of the Donald Trump playbook,” Kelsey says. “Unfortunately, it seems like it’s been working; the ads have been coming fast and furious. I definitely want to keep Virginia blue, because not only do I not want Ed Gillespie in charge of our state, I don’t want to give any ammunition to Donald Trump on Twitter tomorrow.”

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John Riley, 40, of Staunton, Va., said his polling place had moved from a school to a church, but that other than the physical move, voting was relatively easy. The elections official at the precinct told him about 650-700 people had voted by 2 p.m., which didn’t seem like a very high turnout. However, when he was traveling around town earlier in the day, people seemed enthusiastic about the election, even asking him why he wasn’t wearing an “I voted” sticker — though he wasn’t sure if some of those voters were from the city, which would favor Democrats, or the surrounding rural areas, which would tend to favor Republicans.

Riley says he has seen pretty equal numbers of signs for Republican and Democratic candidates for statewide office, and a barrage of TV ads from both campaigns, so it’s hard to tell who has the momentum.

As for what motivated him to vote, Riley said it was probably no different than some of his neighbors.

“In general, I think it’s everyone’s responsibility to vote,” he says. “I think what motivated me to come out was health care. I’d like to see everyone get some sort of health care. As a small business person, I’m not required to carry it for my employees, but I would like to one day, if it was made affordable.”

Kelly DeLucia, the Democratic candidate in the 96th House District, said she felt there had been a significant increase in turnout compared to past off-year elections. 

“When you’re talking to your supporters, you’re kind of in a bubble,” she says. “But some of the election officials have been coming in and out and giving us updates on the total number of voters. And they’re very high. Almost all the places I’ve been to are irregularly high.”

She says it’s too early to tell which party is going to benefit from the increased turnout, but just based the number of voters who had turned out on Tuesday morning, in three precincts she visited, it seems that there are a number of people excited about the election.

“You just don’t know how much of this angst is actually going to turn into action. But it looks like it is,” she says.

DeLucia also says she got a rare opportunity to meet the woman she’s challenging, Del. Brenda Pogge (R-James City).

“She was at one of the precincts I stopped by, and she had not appeared at any potential joint candidate events, so we had a nice chat and took a photo together,” DeLucia says with a laugh. “I’m glad I finally got to meet her and shake her hand.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com