On Thursday, Aug. 2 and Saturday, Aug. 4, Democratic voters in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County participated in an “unassembled” caucus to select a Democratic nominee for the recently vacated Virginia 45th House of Delegates seat.
Amazingly, over 2,400 voters cast their ballots for an election that had only been finalized a week prior. That high turnout number is a tribute to the voters of the 45th District, who are some of the best voters America, as well as the two Democratic candidates, Rob Krupicka and Karen Gautney, who focused on educating voters as much as possible about the dates and times of the election.
Even though thousands of voters came to the caucus, having a “shotgun” election is a horrible way to run a government. The combined cost of running this special election separate from the November election will be around $50,000 for Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. Moreover, Gov. McDonnell’s decision smacks of outright voter suppression and should not be tolerated by any voter in Virginia.
When a seat is vacated in the Virginia General Assembly, Virginia’s Governor has broad authority in setting a special election date. For some reason, Gov. McDonnell made a decision to call a special election for the day after Labor Day (Sept. 4) and, by issuing a Writ of Election on July 30, only gave political parties five days to certify nominees. Although Alexandria Democrats were planning for such an eventuality, most expected a special election date to fall on the only logical date in the next few months, Nov. 6, when tens of thousands of voters will go to the polls. Outrageously, the Governor apparently chose to undermine democracy in our area of the state for his own perverse reasons.
Before the Governor's decision was made on the 45th District special election, many Alexandria Democrats expressed a desire to have the most open process possible. Democratic voters had just come off a City Council primary that was the most open and transparent in anyone's recent memory and voters responded by voting in much larger numbers relative to previously held City Council caucuses.
In an effort to inform affected citizens, a website was established (www.45thDistrict.org) to give voters the best information available about the process which had never been done in a special election in Virginia. In addition, a survey was created to give voters a chance to express their opinion about how they wanted this nominating process to be conducted.
Unfortunately, because of the Governor's decision to shotgun this election to Sept. 4, the ability to open this caucus widely to voters, give them a chance to get to know the candidates and widely publicize the dates of the caucus was severely limited. The Governor caused this process to be much more closed than it really needed to be, and just confirms for all of us that, as a policy, both he and the Republican Party is focused on limiting the number of people that may participate in elections.
This policy is not limited to Gov. McDonnell. It is a nationwide Republican tactic, born from the American Legislative Exchange Council and executed in force after Barack Obama's historic election in 2008, when Obama for America registered hundreds of thousands of voters. It is also a policy that was resoundly rejected by the voters in the 45th District with their unprecedented turnout for the Democratic caucus.
Voter suppression is real and a policy to try and limit the number of voters in an election is being executed here in Virginia. It is a purely partisan tactic that voters of all political persuasions should reject. Making it hard for someone to vote is the same as denying them access to the ballot in the first place - and citizens should no longer tolerate manufactured attempts to rig elections by limiting the number of people voting. Making it hard for citizens to vote is the 21st Century version of “ballot stuffing " and puts at risk the integrity of our entire election process.
We are in a war on voters and the entire system of how we choose our elected officials is in jeopardy. Only citizens that reject limiting access to the ballot can change the course of this dangerous and destructive policy.
Access to the ballot is not a privilege to be enjoyed by a select few. It is a right that should be respected - and protected - by all of our elected officials.
Paul Friedman, Alexandria