State of Elections

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Category: Virginia (page 1 of 8)

Virginia Cuts the Cable, Gets Same Day Voter Registration

By: Allen Coon

It was an early Tuesday morn when the Commonwealth awoke to an October surprise all of its own: on October 12th, the last day for eligible Virginians to register to vote in the November 3rd General Election, a Chesterfield County utilities crew accidentally severed a cable providing online connectivity for multiple Commonwealth agencies—including the Virginia Department of Elections. Prospective voters who had hoped to register or update their registration online were denied the option, with no alternative but to register in-person by 5:00 p.m.

In October 2016, when a similar technological malfunction prevented applicants from registering online, such a glitch may have posed a burden for citizens with limited or no transportation access or employment flexibility. Now, during a global pandemic, the unavailability of online registration also required all in-person applicants—and specifically elderly, poor, disabled, and minority Virginians (all vulnerable populations)—to unnecessarily risk exposure to COVID-19.

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Voter Intimidation in Virginia

By Canaan Suitt

During the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump failed to condemn white supremacists when asked if he would do so by moderator Chris Wallace. Trump asked for a specific group, and Biden named the Proud Boys, a group with a “yearslong reputation for not only violence but very clear ties to white supremacy” according to Amy Cooter, a lecturer at Vanderbilt who studies nationalism, race, and rightwing militias. Trump responded: “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.”

On social media, far-right groups celebrated Trump’s remark, interpreting it as legitimation of their efforts to combat “radical leftists” and as a call to arms to monitor polling places on Election Day. Andrew Anglin, founder of the Neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, said: “I got shivers. I still have shivers. He is telling the people to stand by. As in: Get ready for war.”

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To the Virginia General Assembly: Free the Franchise, End Felony Disenfranchisement

By Allen Coon

“No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be qualified to vote unless his civil rights have been restored by the Governor or other appropriate authority.”

So decrees Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution of Virginia, which disenfranchises all Virginia residents convicted of any felony—including returning citizens with prior convictions—without petitioning the Governor. Since 2016, Virginians who have completed their sentence (including supervised probation and/or parole) can now request their rights be restored by contacting the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

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Virginia Supreme Court Applies Strict Standard for Removing Elected Officials

By: Cody Brandon

In October of last year, the State of Elections blog previewed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia questioning the requirements of Virginia Code §§ 24.2-233 and 235.  The Court, on March 1, 2018, answered those questions.  As predicted, this decision will have a substantial impact on the process for removing elected officials in Virginia.  For a detailed discussion of the history of the case and the arguments of the parties, read the original post previewing the case.  This post will cover analysis of the opinion and its effect.

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Slaying the Gerrymander: How Reform Will Happen in the Commonwealth

By: Brian Cannon ’11 and Ben Williams ’18

Gerrymandering is a political tool that snuck its way into Virginia politics long ago. It has become problematic over time, threatening true democracy in the Commonwealth. This article outlines what those problems are, how other states reacted to similar issues, and what Virginia politicians have done to respond to gerrymandering. It offers proposed solutions to the issues, and calls upon the Virginia General Assembly and elected governor to take action.

To read the rest of the article, please visit the University of Richmond Public Interest Law Review.

Ballot Ordering: A Recurrent Controversy in Virginia?

By: Jacob Dievendorf

In at least the two most recent “big” elections in Virginia, the 2016 Presidential race, and the 2017 race for Governor, there has been some controversy over the method used to decide which order candidates appear on the ballot. In March 2017, the Corey Stewart campaign issued a press release accusing Ed Gillespie’s campaign of “manipulating the Virginia Board of Elections in a last-ditch, rule-breaking effort to have Ed’s name placed at the top of the [primary] ballot.” Virginia law provides that ballot order for primaries is determined by the time that a candidate files for the office, on a first come first served basis. If candidates file simultaneously, ballot order is determined by lottery. The Stewart campaign went so far as to camp out in front of the Board of Elections offices the night before in order to be first, but alleged that Gillespie’s campaign was pressuring the Board to consider their filings simultaneous.

Looking back just a bit further, Virginia’s ballot ordering rules also caused some controversy during the 2016 election cycle. In general elections, Virginia law provides that candidates from major political parties, that is, parties that receive more than 10 percent of the vote in two previous statewide elections, are listed on the ballot first, followed by candidates from minor parties, and lastly, the names of independent candidates. This law was challenged by a former minor party candidate for governor, Robert Sarvis, of the Libertarian Party, and eventually found its way up to the 4th Circuit. In June, 2016, a three judge panel of the 4th Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case, based largely on a theory that the ballot ordering law does not harm minor parties.

It is hard to say whether this controversy will continue. Two data points hardly make a trend, but the issue has proved important enough to drive a gubernatorial campaign to literally camp out in front of the Board of Elections, and a third party candidate to fight a case up to the 4th Circuit. Why is ballot ordering even an issue? Surely voters are able to discern which candidate they prefer, no matter the order of names on the ballot.

Contrary to this notion, there is a body of evidence that suggests that order on a list does matter. It seems that when people make choices, there is some preference for selecting choices that are listed first, or higher, in a list of choices. Larry Sabato, writing for the University of Virginia Center for Politics, has looked at the political implications of this bias. His conclusions contain an interesting implication for ballot ordering in Virginia. While he concludes that races for major offices such as president and governor are not highly impacted by serial position effects, lesser offices and non-partisan races are especially susceptible. Therefore, many “lesser” elections in Virginia, where candidates are not associated with parties, may be especially influenced by this form of selection bias.

It is possible that ballot ordering controversies will go nowhere, and that the issues raised in 2016 and 2017 will be a fluke. On the other hand, in an increasingly polarized voting climate, where parties compete to eke out whatever advantages they can, perhaps the minor advantage gained by being listed first on a ballot will become increasingly attractive. Ballot ordering is a currently minor issue, but one with increasingly significant potential.

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Defining “Compactness”: Meaningless Truism or Gerrymander Slayer?

By: Ben Williams 

This past week, an upstart election law reform organization in Virginia garnered national attention for a lawsuit that could redefine the legal strategies of anti-gerrymandering activists across the country. Per Article II, § 6 of the Virginia Constitution, “[e]very electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory…” (emphasis added). Virginia is not alone in requiring its districts to be compact—a majority of states have such a requirement. But while the word “contiguous” is easily defined (all parts of the district are connected in a single, unbroken shape), the political science community lacks a common understanding of what exactly contiguity is. As a threshold issue, there are two potential ways to measure a district’s compactness: spatially (the physical shape and area of the district) or demographically (calculating the spread of persons within a given district).  While many states do not define which of these measures should govern, or if one should be preferred over the other, the Virginia Supreme Court in Jamerson v. Womack said the language of Art. II (cited above) “clearly limits [the Article’s] meaning as definitions of spatial restrictions in the composition of electoral districts.” Thus, one of the key questions the Circuit Court judge and the attorneys in the case had to address was how to measure spatial compactness in Virginia?

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Nine Districts: How Richmond came to possess one of America’s strangest rules for electing a Mayor

 

By: Venugopal Katta

On November 8th, 2016, voters in Richmond, Virginia – like hundreds of millions of Americans – headed to the polls. In addition to deciding between Presidential and Congressional candidates, Richmond voters elected former Secretary of the Commonwealth Levar Stoney to replace term-limited incumbent Dwight Jones. The process by which they did so, however, was a unique reflection of rules set up in the shadow of the city’s troubled history of racism, corruption, and legal jeopardy.

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Virginia’s “Right-to-Work” Amendment: Nothing Has Changed

By: Kelsey Dolin

On November 8th, 2016, Virginians not only cast their ballots for the next president and other elected officials, but also lent their voices to two proposed amendments to the Virginia Constitution. Voters decided against a right-to-work amendment and approved an amendment exempting the spouses of first responders killed in the line of duty from property taxes.

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An Unenviable Choice: Party Loyalty or Voting Your Conscience?

How do we resolve the tension between an individual’s right to vote for who he or she chooses and a political party’s right to set its own rules to govern its proceedings? This conflict was at issue in Correll v. Herring, involving the validity of Virginia election law § 24.2-545 (D).

Political parties in Virginia “have the right to determine the method by which . . .  [they] will select their delegates to the national convention to choose the party’s nominees for President and Vice President of the United States including a presidential primary or another method determined by the party.” Virginia Code § 24.2-545 (A). Under § 24.2-545 (D), party delegates must vote for the candidate who wins the most votes in the party primary (“winner takes all”) if the state party uses a primary election system.  Violation of § 24.2-545 (D) is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

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