Yes, Virginia, there is an election on Tuesday.
But judging from a recent informal survey of several dozen residents of Hampton Roads, most people don’t know about it.
Tuesday will bring primaries for the governor’s race and other statewide offices, several House of Delegates seats in Hampton Roads and some constitutional offices in Chesapeake and Norfolk. The winners will be on the ballot in the general election in November.
If Virginia’s 6 and 4 percent turnouts in its most recent two primaries – Democrats in 2009 and Republicans in 2005 − are any indication of what to expect, most Virginians won’t head to the polls Tuesday. Of the 40 or so people interviewed in recent days for this article, only four knew there was an election on Tuesday.
Jennifer Cahoon, 46, of Virginia Beach said she was aware of the primary only because there are so many political ads on TV these days.
Many of those interviewed said the governor’s race is not a referendum on the new administration and Congress, nor is it a relitigation of the 2016 presidential election.
Infrastructure and the economy were the two most frequently mentioned topics.
Cahoon says her Beach neighborhood floods almost every time there’s a storm. Recent frequent rainfall hasn’t been pleasant in that regard, Cahoon said.
She said it would help to send someone from her neighborhood to Richmond – that way, they’d feel pressure to fix the problem.
“We’re going to have to improve infrastructure,” said 58-year-old Chesapeake resident Gordon Hayward. “We’re way behind on new infrastructure and we don’t maintain what we have.”
Antonio Travino, 26, is a student at Tidewater Community College who lives in Virginia Beach. He said when he moved from Texas recently, he was surprised to see this region had more traffic than where he’d previously lived.
Virginia Beach voters shot down a light rail in an advisory referendum last year, but the idea hasn’t left the mind of a couple of those interviewed.
Virginia Beach resident Maxime Singleton, 71, and Chesapeake resident Cheryl Blythe, 67, said expanding light rail would be a convenient solution to rush-hour traffic.
Some who were interviewed were concerned with toll roads.
“It seems like they keep adding more of them,” said Josh Gilmore, a 26-year-old TCC student. “When I first moved here there were few, now they keep adding them and the costs have increased.”
Those stopped in Portsmouth were particularly concerned with their city’s economy. Some, like 37-year-old Angie Olds, said the city needs to better attract businesses.
“We need a different variety of businesses,” said Michael O’Rourke, a 53-year-old Portsmouth resident. “We’ve got a lot of them that abandoned here.”
Greg Sparrier, 51, has lived in Portsmouth his whole life. He wants to elect politicians who will look out for Portsmouth, which he said is in decline.
A critical piece of that, he said, is getting shipyard jobs back to Hampton Roads.
Sparrier was let go by BAE Systems last year as part of a mass layoff in 2016. For the first time in more than 30 years, he became unemployed. Now, he’s homeless and living on a friend’s couch.
“The layoffs have had a bad effect on the whole economy in this area,” Sparrier said.
The prospects for shipyard workers have dwindled, according to Sparrier. Most of the people he knows who were laid off still haven’t found work.
“With no income, what can you do?” Sparrier said. “Everybody’s on food stamps or unemployed.”
A wave of layoffs is currently hitting the region’s shipyards and subcontractors. Hundreds are expected to be out of work.
Charles More, 57, of Portsmouth, said the biggest point of discussion among people in his circle is crime. To prevent this, he said, he believes the state should invest in more after-school programs for children.
Linda Riddick, a 60-year-old from Portsmouth, agreed. She pointed to youth unemployment as a root cause of crime in the city.
While several of those interviewed said the results of the 2016 election would motivate them to vote, some said it actually fatigued them and has turned them away from politics.
Christian Andrews, 49, lives in New Jersey, the only state besides Virginia electing a governor this fall. He acknowledges that Tuesday’s primary has ramifications for his son, 16-year-old Abraham Futch from Chesapeake.
The teen is two years shy of the voting age, but Andrews was eager to hear his son chime in. When Abraham said he wasn’t tuned into state politics, Andrews said he understands.
“It’s hard to know what to care about.” Andrews said. “How can he?”
Andrews said he checked out of politics a long time ago after becoming disillusioned with it. He thinks civility has disappeared. “A terrible loss,” he called it.
“Before any issue is addressed, the general discourse needs to shift to decency and humanity,” Andrews said. “It’s what the country needs.”