Opponents of a proposal to establish a new casino in Richmond, Virginia, have celebrated a victory in a federal court case that sought access to voter information. The lawsuit came about after their request for this data — which is traditionally available to political candidates and committees — was initially denied by the state Board of Elections.
The advocate leading this opposition is local activist Paul Goldman, founder of the ‘No Means No Casino’ group. His lawsuit against the Board of Elections was first presented in a city court before being moved to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for trial last week.
Late Friday, a federal judge mandated the board to provide a compiled list of voters from the previous election. Virginia state law permits the disclosure of such lists to particular eligible entities, such as candidates for office, political action committees, and nonprofits geared towards encouraging voter participation.
City leaders are putting their weight behind the proposed $562 million casino project, which is backed by Urban One and Churchill Downs. Both parties are big hitters in their industries: Urban One is a Maryland-rooted media powerhouse focused on serving the Black community, while Churchill Downs is a renowned racing and gaming behemoth based in Kentucky.
This initiative was previously put to a vote and narrowly defeated. Now another tight contest is predicted.
Negotiations are currently ongoing between Goldman and the Elections Board to find some resolution concerning his access to detailed lists of all registered voters in Richmond. These lists would allow for direct communication with possible voters prior to an election.
The Virginia Elections Commissioner, Susan Beals, has assured that the board is not looking to screen Goldman’s potential communique before they are dispatched. Goldman has characterized the talk over access as a “work in progress.”
Despite Goldman’s recent legal success, it may have come too late for reaching several Richmond voters. Early voting began on September 22, and by Sunday, nearly 7,400 votes had been cast in Richmond.
The proposed casino is also expected to influence voter turnout generally. The last casino measure vote in 2016 attracted a massive 105,268 votes, with 26,275 of these being cast ahead of Election Day. But with voting for a new Virginia governor also on the agenda in 2021, this year’s turnout may dip.
Historical data suggest that the casino proposal has previously found greater favor amongst early voters who typically cast their ballot in person. On the southside of Richmond, closer to the proposed casino location, there appears to be stronger support for the establishment, compared to the north side of the city.
Both Urban One and Churchill Downs have invested over $8 million in favor of the casino, even providing free Uber rides to get voters to the polling stations early. On the other end of the spectrum, Goldman’s group, running on a tighter budget of around $200,000, believes that having delayed access to voter lists has compounded their disadvantage in this impending referendum.