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This is the first year Portsmouth native Jeramiah Gardner voted.

“I think this election coming up, especially for the presidential election, is probably one of the most important ones in history. So I definitely want to have my voice heard,” he said.

The presidential election is what brought the 25-year-old to the polls, but like other Portsmouth voters waiting to cast a ballot the week early voting ends, he knows one thing: Something in the city has to change.

“If whoever we have in is not working … then maybe we need to go ahead and try something different, because that's the only way we're going to get new results,” Gardner said.

Portsmouth voters will pick some local leaders this Election Day following a chaotic summer in the city.

In June, Sen. Louise Lucas was present when protestors damaged Portsmouth’s Confederate monument. Police Chief Angela Greene said Lucas told officers at the monument they couldn’t arrest anyone during the protest.

School board member LaKeesha “Klu” Atkinson -- who is running to keep her seat -- and other Black community members were also present.

Portsmouth Police went on to charge Lucas, Atkinson and 17 others, a move criticized by many politicians in the state, including Gov. Ralph Northam.

“It's deeply troubling that on the verge of Virginia passing long-overdue police reform, the first Black woman to serve as our Senate Pro Tempore is suddenly facing highly unusual charges,” the Governor tweeted after the charges were filed.

The events kicked off weeks of upheaval in Portsmouth: criminal charges against prominent Black community members and resignations among city brass (though the city did not say if it was related to the Confederate monument situation).

The summer’s events were an “embarrassment,” resident Gordon Jackson said.

“I don’t understand what happened,” he said. 

Photo by Mechelle Hankerson

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, more than 20,000 Portsmouth residents have voted early. It's almost five times the number of early voters in the 2016 election.

Resident John Hudgins said he thinks some of Portsmouth’s political dysfunction is because of a deep racial divide in the city, a topic that came up during the events after the monument vandalism.

Hudgins isn’t sure if new elected leaders can fix it. 

“I don’t have a lot of confidence,” he said.

There is one thing voters seemed excited about -- the possibility of a waterfront casino.

Sen. Lucas tried for years to change state law to allow casinos in Portsmouth.

Earlier this year, the Democratic majority in the General Assembly voted to allow casinos anywhere voters approve it through a referendum.

“I'm hoping that the casino would provide some tax base, some revenue to the city,” said John Hudgins. 

Forty-two percent of Portsmouth’s property is tax-exempt, the city assessor’s office said. Tax-exempt property includes military installations, government property and churches.

Portsmouth loses about $72.8 million in revenue because of that, the office estimated.

A privately owned casino would be subject to city taxes, and could bring in more revenue. 

Norfolk, directly across the Elizabeth River from Portsmouth, has a similar referendum on its local ballot. Both cities have already reviewed proposals from entities seeking to develop the casinos.

Unlike Norfolk, there hasn’t been an organized push against the project. 

“The city of Portsmouth deserves the chance to be just as big as Virginia Beach and have some attractions, just like Norfolk (and) Virginia Beach does,” said resident Jeramiah Gardner. “So in that aspect, I think it's a great idea.”

Early in-person voting ends Saturday Oct. 31. Polls will be open Tuesday Nov. 3, 6 a.m.-7 p.m. If a voter is in line by 7 p.m., they will still be able to vote.