At the Dorothy Hart Community Center in downtown Fredericksburg, a line of students at the University of Mary Washington waited for the trolley to pick them up and take them back to campus.
The trolley was busy all day taking students from the college to downtown for voting. Many of them were brand-new voters motivated by such national issues as abortion and gun control, as well as frustration over divisiveness and misinformation.
Kel Perkinson, a freshman, said that “protecting abortion rights” was a big issue for him, along with “limiting how schools are having to censor what they teach.”
Protecting access to abortion was also a top issue for UMW freshman and first-time voter Caleb Dahloff, but he identified “fighting within politics” as his “single biggest issue.”
“I hate it so much,” Dahloff said. He said his disgust at the finger-pointing in politics led him to vote for Monica Gary, the independent candidate for Virginia Senate District 27.
Dahloff said he worries that his vote for Gary will mean a win for the Republican candidate, Tara Durant, and that he encouraged his friends to vote for the Democrat, Joel Griffin.
“But for me, I felt like I had to vote for Monica Gary on principle,” he said.
The UMW students were among the 776 voters who had cast their ballots at the Community Center at around 1 p.m. – just a little more than the 703 who had voted at Hugh Mercer Elementary School by mid-afternoon.
Bea Paolucci was at Hugh Mercer as a volunteer for Matt Kelly, one of three candidates for at-large representative on City Council. She said she worries that national and state issues are subsuming local issues for voters this Election Day.
Fredericksburg used to hold elections for City Council in May, but Council in 2021 approved moving local elections to November. Paolucci, who served on City Council from 2010-2014, said she thinks voters aren’t “aware of local issues” now that they are voting for state delegates and senators along with Council and School Board representatives.
She said she isn’t hearing voters talking about local issues that she finds concerning, such as the city’s infrastructure needs and pending tax increases.
Abortion access was the top issue among voters the Advance spoke to at New City Fellowship in the city’s Ward 4, but the Advance did hear from voters at Hugh Mercer who had local issues in mind.
Donya Jones, the single father of a student at James Monroe High School, said a top issue for him is school safety, and Sam Cateron, the father of an elementary student, said he wants to see the school division receive more funding.
Cateron also has concerns about “hidden taxes” – higher taxes within the city boundary as compared to in Spotsylvania or Stafford counties – and about overgrown shrubs that reduce visibility while driving.
Jeremy Larochelle said he is worried about over development in the city and about environmental issues, saying he’d like to see city-wide composting implemented.
Adele Uphaus is Managing Editor and Correspondent with FXBG Advance.