Early voting for the Democratic primary election for the 11th district Virginia Senate seat begins May 5 — Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Va.) and Delegate Sally Hudson (D-Va.) will face off for the nomination, both running on progressive platforms. Civic groups on Grounds — including the U.Va Center for Politics and University Democrats — have sought to maintain student engagement in the upcoming election before students leave for the summer.
The candidate elected June 20 will run against Phillip Hamilton (R-11) and J’riah Guerrero (I) in the general election Nov. 7. Both Deeds and Hudson cite reproductive rights, climate change, gun control and economic reform as key priorities.
While they have previously not been in direct competition with one another, Hudson’s decision to move from House to Senate and redistricting of certain areas in Virginia have changed the nature of the playing field. While Albemarle County was previously split between State Senate district 25 — represented by Deeds — and the more Republican leaning district 17, the newly drawn district 11 now encompasses all of Charlottesville and almost all of Albemarle, with a stronger projected Democratic lean than either the old district 25 or 17.
Deeds’s campaign priorities include maintaining Virginia’s status as one the most accessible states in the South for abortion, working to subsidize college education to make it more affordable and continuing to work on the assault weapons ban that passed January with bipartisan support in the State Senate. If passed by the House of Delegates, the bill would ban the new sale and possession of assault weapons after July 1 and raise the legal age to purchase an assault weapon.
According to Deeds’ Campaign Manager Maddie Summers, Deeds’ goals to decrease the costs of higher education and rates of gun violence are likely to be important for University students, especially given the deadly shooting on Grounds Nov. 13 that left two University students dead and two injured. Hudson has expressed similar commitments, but Summers argued that Deeds’ seniority in the Senate will make him more effective at delivering concrete legislation.
“It's not that we have fundamental disagreements on values necessarily, but there are fundamental differences in terms of the candidates,” Summers said. “I think that what it really comes down to is that Deeds has a proven and effective track record of not just fighting for our progressive values, but delivering tangible results.”
While Hudson entered the House of Delegates in 2020, Deeds has represented the Charlottesville area in the Senate since 2001, making him the fifth longest-serving Democrat within the Senate. Deeds currently serves on multiple key committees, including acting as co-chair of the Judiciary Committee and member of the Commerce and Labor, Finances and Appropriations, Privileges and Elections and the Rules committees.
Hudson’s top priority is protecting reproductive rights, followed by lowering college tuition costs in the state of Virginia and advocating for more restrictions on gun ownership — including an assault weapons ban, universal background checks for potential gun owners and laws prohibiting the purchase of more than one firearm per month in the state of Virginia.
Hudson said that while Deeds has seniority in the Senate, his track record is more reactionary than truly progressive. According to Hudson, if elected Senator she would provide a fresher perspective and more aggressive action on pushing political boundaries.
“While I am grateful to Senator Deeds for his decades of public service, he has not historically been on the leading edge of the party,” Hudson said. “He has typically been someone who eventually comes around once the political landscape has shifted, and I don't think that's the kind of leadership we need from this district.”
Hudson specifically cited the fact that Deeds has never carried a piece of legislation for reproductive rights, instead voting in support once legislation is put forward. During the University public forum, Hudson also criticized when Deeds and three other democrats crossed party lines to reject a 2020 bill that would ban assault weapons.
Hudson has cited her accomplishments in the more polarized House of Delegates, where she was awarded the highest possible legislative scores by NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and the Virginia League of Conservation Voters as a freshman legislator.
One of the larger voting blocks within Charlottesville and Albemarle is the University community, with students becoming progressively more engaged in more recent elections. Student voter turnout at the University has been steadily increasing since 2014. According to data from the U.Va. Center for Politics, University student voter turnout has risen from 14.9 percent of eligible voters in the 2014 midterm elections to 45.8 percent in the 2018 midterms. Despite positive trends, both Summers and Hudson doubt that student voters will turn out in high rates for the upcoming primary, which opens for early voting during final exams.
In hopes of bolstering civic engagement, the U.Va. Center for Politics has been working to increase voter turnout and educate students through events and on-Grounds initiatives. In mid-April, interns from the Center for Politics partnered with Charlottesville Tomorrow to host a public forum between Deeds and Hudson — the first of this year’s election season. During the forum, interns handed out flyers with QR codes for VA’s online voter registration portal.
Mateusz Kudra, Center for Politics intern and fourth-year College student, said that community based forums are essential to spreading the word about upcoming elections. According to Kudra, many people do not vote because they either do not understand the importance of elections or do not believe that their vote matters.
“I say that the reason people don’t vote is ignorance and apathy,” Kudra said. “I don’t think societies do a good enough job telling an average citizen why their vote matters and why they should care about an elected official.”
While the Center for Politics is nonpartisan and thus focuses on general voter engagement efforts, the University Democrats have been focused on raising turnout for Democratic elections in particular. UDems have hosted both Hudson and Deeds to speak directly to students and will coordinate transportation for students who cannot drive to their local polling location.
Vincent Kloes, president of University Democrats and fourth-year College student, said that it is important for students to vote in every primary. He said that this primary in particular is important because many issues are at stake right now. He expressed the importance of this election in protecting abortion legislation.
“People from all over the south are coming to Virginia right now because it is easier to access that here than it is in many other nearby states,” Kloes said. “The Senate is the reason that abortion has remained legal here in Virginia and that, among many other issues, is something we'd like to see.”
Hudson emphasized that it is especially important for college students to vote because of the disproportionate number of older voters in the United States. On a national level, a third of the 2020 national electorate was over 70, with another third between the age of 55 and 70.
“I hope that college students understand how often classic political consultants count them out,” Hudson said. “You wonder why we're not moving fast enough on gun violence and climate change. It's because the political class is counting on college students staying home [and not voting].”
The deadline to register or update voter registration is May 30. Early voting begins at the local registrar’s office May 5 and election day will be held June 20.