More than 40 percent of the people arrested last week for blocking the travel lanes of the Downtown Expressway after Donald Trump was elected president did not vote in the election they were protesting, according to voter registration and election participation records.
Three of the 12 protesters arrested were registered in Virginia but did not cast a ballot on Nov. 8, a Richmond Times-Dispatch review of state and local records shows. A fourth protester whose Facebook page says she is from Virginia was not registered to vote here. And a fifth protester living in Richmond was a registered voter in Orange County, N.Y., but did not request an absentee ballot or vote at her precinct, according to the Orange registrar’s office.
Seven of the 12 protesters are registered voters in Virginia and did cast ballots on Nov. 8. They include two people who live in the counties of Chesterfield and Henrico and are registered to vote in those localities, records show.
The arrested protesters range in age from 18 to 26 and were all of legal age to vote. Only one of the arrested protesters was 18 — the minimum age required to vote — and he cast a ballot, records show.
“Everybody in America, regardless of whether you vote or not, retains their First Amendment right to express their opinion peacefully,” said Robert Holsworth, one of the state’s leading political analysts. “And at the same time, if you endanger others while you’re doing that, you also are rightfully subjected to legal penalty.”
“(But) my sense is that you certainly have more credibility protesting the results of the election if you demonstrated that you have a stake in that election,” Holsworth added. “And in this instance, the fact that some of them seemed to want to protest without having a stake is, in many people’s minds, going to cast doubt on their credibility. So in a way, if the act itself of sitting on a highway didn’t undermine” their message, not voting “probably will in many people’s minds undermine the credibility of what they wanted to express.”
The percentage of protesters arrested in Richmond who did not vote may have been higher than the percentage of non-voting protesters arrested in Portland, Ore., who staged multiple demonstrations over several days, some erupting into riots.
Thirty-six of the 112 people arrested in Portland, or 32 percent, were registered to vote in Oregon but did not return ballots, the Portland Oregonian newspaper reported, based on data compiled by the Multnomah County Elections Division. The data showed 31 arrested protesters, or 28 percent, did vote.
But the elections division determined that another 36 of the 112 arrested protesters were not registered to vote in Oregon at the time of the Nov. 8 election. That could mean they did not vote or were registered in another state and cast their ballots there, the newspaper reported.
The elections division released the results after running the names and ages of the protesters through its Oregon database and looking for matches in response to a public records request by a Portland television station. The elections division also provided the results to the Oregonian newspaper.
After the names of the protesters and their charges were released by Virginia State Police and Richmond police on Nov. 10, the Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained their addresses, dates of birth and other identifying information through Richmond court records. The newspaper then checked the names against voter registration rolls and election participation records released by registrars in Richmond, Chesterfield, Henrico and Fairfax counties.
The 12 protesters arrested in Richmond — eight of whom were Virginia Commonwealth University students — were arrested late on the evening of Nov. 9, just before midnight, after they sat in the travel lanes of the Downtown Expressway, blocking traffic. They were charged with unlawful assembly and being pedestrians on an interstate.
One of the protesters, Mackenzie A. Werner of Richmond, called the newspaper Friday afternoon to share concerns about her safety after her name and other identifying information became public after her arrest.
Werner, 21, said that after her name was first made public in news accounts last week, she began receiving threats from people posting on her Facebook page. She said one of the commenters said “that I should be raped,” and another threatened to “run me over with their car.”
She declined to discuss her involvement in the protest or reasons for participating in the Downtown Expressway sit-in.
In the early stages of the hours-long demonstrations, Virginia State Police worked to clear a group of protesters from Interstates 64/95, where they had gathered in what the agency described as “an extremely dangerous situation” in which pedestrians were on a stretch of highway with ramps, blind curves and limited lighting.
After entering the interstate from Belvidere Street, the protesters marched eastward, seemingly to the next exit, which is for the Richmond Coliseum area.
Richmond police had sought assistance from state police to help with protesters on the interstate shortly before 10 p.m. About 40 minutes later, the pedestrians were gone from the highway and the lanes were reopened to vehicle traffic, with no arrests made.
“State troopers responded to these locations to guide the protesters off the interstate corridors — for their safety and the motoring public’s safety,” state police spokesman Sgt. Stephan Vick said this week. “Due to (the Downtown Expressway’s) limited lighting, and blind curves and ramps, it was an extremely dangerous situation for pedestrian traffic.”
One group of protesters who took to the streets Nov. 10 gathered in front of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and, after they disbursed, authorities discovered that three Confederate statues on Richmond’s iconic Monument Avenue had been tagged with apparent anti-Trump graffiti.
The message “Your vote was a hate crime” was scrawled in red spray paint on the monuments to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Confederate naval officer.
So far, police have not made any arrests.
Ten of the 12 protesters charged with blocking the Downtown Expressway are scheduled to appear in Richmond General District Court on Nov. 29. Two others are set to appear Jan. 10.
In addition to Werner, the defendants are Sofia R. Bugge, 23, of Richmond; Sarah J. Camden, 25, of Richmond; Trevor A. Clarkson, 20, of Richmond; Briana M. Collazo, 26, of Richmond; Joseph G. Forcier, 20, of Richmond; Madeline C. Lewis, 20, of Richmond; Madeline L. McElgunn, 19, of Richmond; Haley A. Reynolds, 22, of Richmond; Michael D. Stough Jr., 20, of Chesterfield; Gregory C. Robson, 22, of Henrico; and Tion D. Edmonds, 18, of Fredericksburg.