Monday, January 20, 2014

Mother Nature throws special election voters a curve ball

Tomorrow morning at 6:00am, the polls will open in the Virginia State Senate 33rd District's special election to replace Attorney General Mark Herring. Special elections in Virginia always feature low turnout, but tomorrow's election features an extra twist: a significant snow storm is predicted to begin in the 33rd District some time between 9:00am and 12:00 noon. Further complicating this race is the presence of an independent candidate with the potential split the vote in unpredictable ways.

Tomorrow's race feature Democrat Jennifer Wexton against Republican John Whitbeck and Independent (Republican) Joe May.

It is critically important that Democratic voters get out and vote first thing in the morning. Polling locations will be open from 6:00am until 7:00pm whether or not the schools they are housed in close early. Vote early and spread the word to your Democratic friends: get to the polls before the snow arrives and makes it more difficult to move around.

This election is critical, as it will decide control of Virginia's State Senate. The Republican Party of Virginia showed its desperation today by jamming an unconstitutional redistricting bill through on a party line vote (20 Republicans to 18 Democrats). Here's a press release from the Senate's Democratic Caucus:






Republicans Ram through Unconstitutional Redistricting Bill on Party-Line Vote
Technical changes” are in clear violation of Article II, Section 6


RICHMOND, VA — This afternoon, Senate Republicans rammed through SB 310, a bill that makes unconstitutional changes to the boundaries of several Senate districts, on a 20-18 party-line vote. SB 310 is patroned by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R – Fauquier).
This is the second time in the last two years that Republicans have voted for off-year redistricting legislation. (In 2013, HB 259 also passed with unanimous support from Senate Republicans.)

The Constitution of Virginia clearly states that redistricting shall happen “in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter,” and that new lines shall take effect “for the November general election…that is held immediately prior to the expiration of the term being served in the year that the reapportionment law is required to be enacted.”

No provision is made for any off-year adjustment, including the kind of continual changes that Republicans have supported.

Senator Richard L. Saslaw (D – Fairfax) said, “My Republican Colleagues would like us to believe "technical adjustments" that change district boundaries are not to be considered another attempt at redistricting. Last time I checked, the Constitution calls for redistricting in years ending in '1.' This is 2014 and they're still trying to redistrict the Senate for the third consecutive year. I believe the bill to be unconstitutional and should have never passed.”

Senator Donald McEachin (D – Henrico) said, “Last year, Republicans used a bill much like this one as a vehicle to ram through a radical gerrymander that sought to give their party permanent control of the Senate — the will of the voters notwithstanding. This bill, like that one, is completely unconstitutional.”

Senator George L. Barker (D – Alexandria) said, “All these changes have been labeled technical. Nothing can be technical when you’re moving voters from one district to another. As we all know, we’ve had several recent elections that were decided by very small margins. Even the movement of a small number of voters can change an outcome. This is not simply a technical adjustment; it threatens to influence our elections.”

Background
CONSTITUTIONALITY

The Virginia Constitution makes no provision for off-year redistricting. On the contrary, the Virginia Constitution requires that redistricting:
  • take place “in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter” 
  • take effect “for the November general election…that is held immediately prior to the expiration of the term being served in the year that the reapportionment law is required to be enacted.” 

CASE LAW

In a 2012 court case, Little v. SBE, the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond held that the Virginia Constitution “was intended to limit the General Assembly’s authority to reapportion Virginia’s electoral districts after the year 2011.” The Court found that the wording of Article II, Sec. 6 was chosen partly “to allow citizens unfettered participation in the 2012 electoral process,” partly “to avoid precisely the types of constitutional challenges that the Plaintiffs raise in their Complaint, and partly “to preclude ‘politically convenient’ redistricting whenever one political party or the other might gain the upper hand.” [Little v. SBE]

The ruling in Little et al v. SBE strongly implied that there is no such thing as “technical redistricting.” The decision suggests that there is no legal distinction between limited and “limitless” authority to make electoral changes. It reads, in part: “If the Court concurs with the Defendants’ proposition…then the General Assembly will have limitless discretion to reapportion Virginia’s electoral districts in any year it chooses. […] This reasoning, however, if adopted by the Court, would effectively transform [the timeline laid out in Article II, Section 6] into being inconsequential.” [Little v. SBE]



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