Richmond Casino Foes Win Access to Voter Data in Lawsuit

Posted on: October 23, 2023, 12:31h. 

Last updated on: October 23, 2023, 09:55h.

Opponents of an effort to bring a new casino to Richmond, Va., have won a federal lawsuit to force the state Board of Elections to hand over contact information for registered voters in the city.

Richmond casino Urban One Churchill Downs
Opponents of a proposed casino resort in Richmond, Va., have won a federal court case seeking access to voter lists before an expected close election. (Image: NPR)

Local activist Paul Goldman, who founded the group No Means No Casino, sued the state board earlier this year, claiming he was improperly denied voter lists traditionally made available to political candidates and committees. The case was initially filed in city court and elevated to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where a trial was held last week.

In an order late Friday, a federal judge ordered the board to release a list of voters who had cast ballots in the previous election. State law allows such lists to be released to certain qualified groups or organizations, including candidates for office, political action committees, and nonprofits that promote voter participation.

Richmond city leaders are supporting the proposed $562 million casino project backed by Urban One, a Maryland-based media conglomerate catering to the Black community, and Churchill Downs, the Kentucky-headquartered racing and gaming giant. City voters narrowly rejected a similar ballot measure two years ago, and another close vote is expected this time.

Negotiations ‘In Progress’

District Court Judge M. Hannah Lauck also ordered Goldman and the Elections Board to try to negotiate a resolution over Goldman’s access to separate lists of all registered voters in Richmond.

The lists allow groups to contact potential voters in the lead-up to an election. Still, Goldman said he was told he couldn’t access the information without submitting the proposed communications for review.

Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals told the court earlier this month that the board wasn’t seeking to review Goldman’s potential communications before they are sent.

Goldman told early Monday afternoon that discussions with the board on the registered voters list were a “work in progress.” A spokesperson for the Board of Elections didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Early Voting Started Last Month

The ruling comes too late to reach thousands of Richmonders who have already cast their ballot in this year’s election. Early voting in Virginia began September 22, and nearly 7,400 ballots had been cast in Richmond by Sunday, according to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project.

Two years ago, 105,268 votes were cast on the Richmond casino referendum, of which 26,275 were cast before Election Day, according to VPAP. In addition to the casino measure, the 2021 election featured a competitive governor’s race in Virginia, meaning turnout is likely to be lower this year.

Early voters were more likely to support the casino two years ago, especially among those who voted in person. Mail-in early votes broke narrowly in favor of the casino, 50.2% to 49.8%, while in-person early voters supported the casino by a 54%-to-46% margin.

Election Day voters were narrowly against the casino, 51% to 49%, the same as its overall margin of defeat.

Precincts on Richmond’s South Side, closest to the casino’s proposed location, were more likely to support the measure than those in the north of the city.

Urban One and Churchill Downs are spending more than $8 million to support the ballot measure this year, and supporters have been organizing free Uber rides to get voters to the polls early.

Goldman has said his group has around $200K to spend fighting the referendum, a disadvantage he says has been compounded by the delay in receiving the voter lists.