"Whooping Voter Turnout"
Oregon Hill Times (Nov 2004)
by gayla mills
On November 2nd, the neighborhood really turned out to vote, with an amazing increase of 36% in the number of people voting. Unlike previous years, Oregon Hill voted in almost the identical percentage as the rest of the city in the presidential election, with 70% going democratic and 29% republican. Most of the increase in the democratic vote in our precinct came at the expense of the independent vote, which was 22% in 2000. There was also a big increase in neighborhood volunteer involvement in this election season.
Election day was unusually warm and bright. There was an almost festive atmosphere in front of William Byrd as voters new and old chatted and smiled. First time voters showed excitement and confusion as they entered the building and virtually glowed as they left. Most people walked to the polls, several pulling their kids in small wagons. VCU students rode up on their bikes, then headed off to class. Many voters simply hung around and chatted with neighbors, sensing the buzz and wanting to soak it in. The sun shone all day. A lawyer volunteering from DC helped out a few who ran into technical problems. There were a record number of neighborhood volunteers out front handing out brochures and advice from the different campaigns.
You could tell that people on the Hill were tuned into the election from the yard signs and bumper stickers visible in the neighborhood. There was election conversation on the streets. And OHNA was a co-sponsor of candidates' forums for city council and mayor. Voters could attend these forums to meet and find out more about the candidates and what they stood for.
There were 204 new voters in our precinct over 2000, and the 731 registered voters were significantly higher than most years, which have averaged 530-550. Our voting precinct, number 505, includes residents north of the expressway and a few on Harrison Street, but the vast majority are from the heart of Oregon Hill.
The big increase in the number of registered voters can be explained in part by the hard work of several people and groups. Neighborhood canvassers spent many days knocking on doors, talking to residents, and registering new voters. These canvassers primarily represented the Kerry campaign and the living wage coalition. Registrations of students were particularly high at Candyland, located on Cary Street across from many student apartments and dorms. Both candidates running for the fifth council seat, Marty Jewell and Mark Brandon, visited the neighborhood, as did representatives for the libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik.
There has also been a gradual increase in population here that accounts for some of the new voters as well. Since 2000, new apartments on Cary Street, new condos and townhouses at Parsons Row and the Overlook, and new and renovated houses throughout the Hill have gone up.
In the presidential race, John Kerry was heavily favored with 458 votes, or 70%. George Bush won 121 votes, or 29%. Libertarian Michael Badnarik came in with 7 votes, less than half a percent. These percentages were virtually identical to those for the city of Richmond as a whole, indicating an unusual agreement between Oregon Hill and other city voters. The numbers contrasted starkly, however, with the 2000 results, where Bush and Nader won an even number of votes, 83, or 22% each, and Gore won 203, or 54%. So this year saw a slight increase for the republican ticket and a huge increase for the democratic ticket at the expense of the independent vote.
Wilder won 80% of the Oregon Hill vote with 409 votes for mayor. Marty Jewell beat Mark Brandon for city council by a margin of 122 to 112. Our school board representative Steve Johnson ran uncontested.
There were unusually few problems at our precinct compared to others in the city, with only 4 or 5 people having problems because they registered elsewhere or registered with post office boxes, which aren't allowed. Lines were comparatively short, with a 5-20 minute wait, though longer than is normal at our precinct.
Thanks to all who helped make this election so engaging for so many people-whether you registered, voted, canvassed, put up signs, or volunteered. We watched more people get involved and become excited than ever before.