Governance by Tainted Elections and Coin Flips? Virginia Voters Deserve Better

David J. Toscano, House Democratic Leader

The 2017 Virginia House of Delegates elections were truly historic. In picking up 15 seats, Democrats made gains not seen since the 1880s. Now, House Democrats are knocking on the door of the majority, but two things are holding us back. An “irreparably tainted” election in one House district and an insidious effort to reverse a Democratic victory in another. Virginia voters deserve better.

Virginians believe strongly in their fundamental right to vote for their preferred candidates when electing their representatives. Every vote should be counted and every vote should count. Yet in House District 28, 147 voters were given the wrong ballot and were therefore disenfranchised from casting a vote in the district in which they live. After a recount, Democrat Joshua Cole is only 73 votes behind his Republican opponent, less than one-half the number of the votes not counted in the proper district. We hear over and over from Republicans about alleged voter fraud, but here is a case in which our Department of Elections has concluded that real, identifiable voters were actually disenfranchised. The only real solution to this problem is to hold a new election in which all voters in HD-28 can receive correct ballots and vote for the candidate of their choice. The Republican response to this call has been outright resistance. Respect for the Constitution and the rule of law both suggest that Republicans should join Democrats in a call for a new election. Virginians deserve better.

In Newport News, the situation is even more bizarre. Democrat Shelly Simonds won here in a recount by one vote, with both Republicans and Democrats signing off on the result. The next day, the Republicans decided to violate the rules and throw a Hail Mary pass designed to convince local judges to count an additional ballot in their favor, with no legal justification and no advance notice to opposing counsel. A similar request by the Democrats was then rejected, the recount total was redone, and the race is suddenly tied. Under Virginia law, the way to resolve a tied election is “by lot,” and the State Board of Elections is set to do so on Jan. 4. Drawing a name from a hat may determine the balance of power in the House of Delegates?! Virginians deserve better.

Democrats will keep fighting for the majority because it will bring us what Virginians want — Medicaid expansion, investments in all levels of education, and a new Virginia economy that creates more jobs that pay a living wage. We will also lay down a marker to do politics in new and creative ways, including real power sharing in Richmond — on committees, in the appointment of judges, in redistricting reform. Our historic gains in the House of Delegates were a resounding rejection of the toxic, Trumpian rhetoric and policies that defined the Republican strategy both up and down the ballot this year. Virginians in this election spoke loudly and clearly that they wanted new leadership and new ways of thinking about politics, and Democrats won because we are committed to giving this to them. Their voices should not be silenced by tainted elections or games of chance.

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