Virginia GOP Follows Bad Examples Set by Dems

At the moment, Virginia Republicans are stronger than Democrats.


“When I am weaker than you,” wrote science-fiction author Frank Herbert, “I ask for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.” The words would make a fine monument in Virginia’s Capitol Square.

At the moment, Virginia Republicans are stronger than Democratsâ€"and doing everything they can to get stronger still. Last week they rammed a redistricting measure through the Senate. The plan packs minority voters even more tightly into certain districts and, political cartographers believe, would give the GOP several more seats in the chamber.

Republicans followed that up by advancing a measure that would reapportion Virginia’s electors by congressional district. The motive is obvious. Virginia’s districts are carefully tailored to Republicans’ advantage. So under the system proposed by Sen. Charles Carrico, President Barack Obama would have received only four electoral votes in Virginia, instead of 13. Republicans pretend they merely want to make the system more fair. Democrats, naturally, are screaming bloody murder. “The deck is stacked,” gripes Sen. Chap Petersen.

Yet this is not a new proposal. It has been bobbing around like a Styrofoam cup in a tidal pond for two decades. For most of that time, Democrats were pushing itâ€"and Republicans were the ones pushing back.

“House Panel OKs Changing Electoral System,” ran a Times-Dispatch headline in 1992, when Democrats ruled the House. Under that measure, “electors would be apportioned according to the presidential vote in each congressional district,” the story said. “In Virginia, that could benefit Democrats and deprive President Bush of electoral votes.” State GOP executive director Joe Elton called the proposal “another example of the Democrats trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.”

There’s nothing wrong with changing the rules if they’re brokenâ€"and the Electoral College is, at the least, flawed. But since congressional districts are distorted by gerrymandering, incorporating them in the system is no improvement.

Nevertheless, Democratic Del. James Scott carried such a bill for years. In 2001, he was joined in sponsorship by Democratic stalwart and State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple. Seven years later, Democratic State Sen. John C. Miller took up the cause. Democratic Del. Vivian Watts long supported the change, and introduced her own bill to allocate electors by congressional district as recently as last year.  At one point during those years, Republican Del. Riley Ingram railed against the proposalâ€"calling himself “dead set against” it and insisting that it ran contrary to the design of “our forefathers who founded this great country.” Those forefathers, he said, “put in the Electoral College for checks and balances.” Oh.

All of this is great fun to watch, and if the story ended here one could simply wish a pox on both their houses and be done with it. But the story doesn’t end there: The GOP’s Electoral-College ploy is only one move in a series of dubious machinations.

Among them: the Senate redistricting maneuver. Republicans were able to pull that off in the evenly divided chamber because Sen. Henry Marsh was absent, attending the MLK-day inauguration of President Barack Obama. Nice.

Republicans also have been working tirelessly to impose more stringent voter-ID measures. Democrats have overstated the effect of those measures, but to say they have done less harm than they could is not to say they have done no harm at all. And any harm they do is amplified by the fact that the measures are needless: Evidence of voter impersonation at the polls is about as common as unicorn droppings. In fact, the most recent case of electoral fraud in Virginia involves a GOP operative. In October Colin Small was charged with 13 felony and misdemeanor counts after voter-registration applications were found in the trash behind a store in Harrisonburg.

Conservatives in the GOP also managed something of a putsch some months back when the state central committee changed the party nomination method from a primary to a convention. The shift, which benefits a small cadre of purists, led Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to withdraw from this year’s gubernatorial contest.

Politics is a blood sport, not patty-cake, and nobody should cry too many tears for those who let themselves get outmaneuvered through what political scientist William H. Riker called “the art of political manipulation.” All the same, the Virginia GOP’s moves look tactically smartâ€"but strategically self-destructive.

Instead of seeking to broaden the party’s appeal, Republicans have narrowed it by driving a hard-right social agenda on issues such as gay rights and abortion. Now they are trying to insulate themselves from public disapproval of policy by manipulating procedure. In so doing, they are making the same mistake Virginia Democrats once didâ€"when they relied on partisan gerrymandering to hold a majority of seats long after they had lost a majority of the popular vote.

We all know how well that worked out for them in the long run.

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  1. I say push it through and name it after one of the democrats that was previously for it. Then just continue to say: “Hey, we’re only giving you what (blank) was fighting so hard for for so long.”

    1. The Governor Douglas Wilder Memorial Redistricting Plan!
      (All in all, I liked Gov. Wilder.)

    2. Actually what the GOP did was eliminate Creigh Deeds seat, which is out west, and create a new majority minority district.

      So opposing this plan is actually…..RAAACCCCIISSSTTTT.

  2. And people wonder why we think we need guns to keeps our government in line?

  3. Virginia could pull a South Carolina and just have the state house pick the Electoral College members.

  4. Even if they are doing it for the wrong reasons, I like the congressional district electoral plan like Maine/Nebraska do over the winner take all system.

    It keeps the strengths of the electoral system while getting rid of two of the weaknesses.

    1. As do I.

      Related, (about halfway through) a Poli-Sci prof renders a novel defense of such a shift.

      1. My link no take. Here:…..01198.html

    2. Proporational allocation of electors can be accomplished by divying them up to the popular vote rather than by congressional seat.

  5. Okay, Reason needs to stop pushing this line about Voter-ID laws being bad and no good. It’s clear they are needed. It’s also clear many of the objections to Voter ID (National ID policy aside) are bullshit. I’ve seen too much to not change my stance on this.

    1. Please enlighten us on this “clear need”. What exactly is the clear evidence of voter fraud that Voter ID laws will prevent?

      1. Where is the clear evidence that Baseball players were using PED’s prior to 2002?

        Oh that is right, there isn’t any because nobody was testing for them.

        Same here, they type of voter fraud that they are alledging and trying to stop could almost never be discovered without checking ID’s.

        Here is how you do it.

        You get a list of registered voters, call them, identify those who almost certainly will not be voting, have someone else show up at their polling place late in the day and vote for them, if the voter has actually voted just shrug say that’s strange and walk away without ever filing a complaint, if they havn’t you vote for them.

        The only time this would be noticed is in the tiny fraction of cases where you misidentify a voter and vote for them then they come in after you and try to vote.

        This type of vote fraud is unlikely to skew a Presidential election, but a state level election would be very easy to “steal” this way.

        1. This, in a nutshell. I was going to say the same thing, less eloquently. This is classic argument from ignorance. Absence of evidence != evidence of absence

      2. Where exactly is the clear evidence that voter ID laws are going to stop any legitimate voters from voting?

  6. Who says it is a bad example? Nevada and Maine already apportion their electoral votes by congressional district. So do all of the low-population states that only have one district.

    This common sense improvement should go to California as well. Why should Obama get all 55 of California’s electoral votes, when millions of Californians didn’t vote for him. Don’t they deserve to be counted too?

    1. No. Only reasonable people deserve to be counted.

      1. There go all of California’s electoral votes…

  7. My preferred system of Elector elections would be a proportional system. Under this system, the Electors will be split based on the actual vote. So if a state gets 10 electors and the election was a 60/30 split, then the electors are split 6/3. That is the most fair way of divvying them up.

    1. “So if a state gets 10 electors and the election was a 60/30 split, then the electors are split 6/3.”

      Math is hard.

      1. Ostensibly that leftover 10% would go to whoever came in third.

  8. The irony is that the original purpose of gerrymandering districts was to put enough blacks together in one district that they would be able to elect a black congressman. On the theory that only black people can legitimately represent black people.

    This was something southern states were originally ORDERED to do under the Voting Rights Act.

    1. No, the original purpose of gerrymandering districts was to keep Federalists from being elected to the Massachusettes state senate.

  9. You forgot to mention that the state general assembly is currently trying to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the current GOP governor to be the first in the state’s history to be allowed to run for reelection.

    1. You forgot to mention that the state general assembly is currently trying to pass an amendment to the state constitution that would allow the current GOP governor to be the first in the state’s history to be allowed to run for reelection hold office for two consecutive terms.

  10. This plan moves electoral college style politics to the state level and undercuts Democratic strategies of focusing on urban centers. It would force candidates to campaign for the whole state, rather than for deep blue cities(something the GOP candidates do as well)

    But better than this, it would allow other parties a chance as all districts suddenly become sources of electoral votes.

    1. Well we definitely can’t have that.

  11. Gotta love those bought and paid for politicians!

  12. Politics is a blood sport, not patty-cake

    or beanbag.

  13. minority voters even more tightly into certain districts and

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