McAuliffe Vetoes Voter ID Bill

Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) announced he would be vetoing House Bill 1428, a bill which would require Virginia voters requesting absentee ballots to submit a copy of an acceptable form of ID as defined by state law. The bill – introduced by Del. Hyland F. Fowler Jr. (R-Hanover) would exempt military personnel, overseas voters, and people with disabilities from the requirement.

From McAuliffe’s statement announcing the veto:

This bill remains substantively unchanged from a bill that I vetoed in 2015. The bill imposes barriers on an eligible voter’s ability to obtain and cast an absentee ballot. The requirement would not in any way deter fraudulent voting since it provides no means of verifying the identity of the individual depicted in the submitted photograph.

The right to vote is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, and we should be doing all we can to facilitate eligible citizens’ access to the ballot. This bill would undoubtedly result in the disenfranchisement of qualified eligible Virginian voters and increase the potential for costly and time-consuming litigation.

The context for this bill is the upcoming Virginia statewide elections scheduled for November. (According to Blue Virginia, Del. Fowler is currently running for reelection unopposed.) The exemptions offered by the Fowler bill would be significant, because many military and government personnel are based in Virginia (the Washington DC suburbs, or one of the many military bases in the region) or assigned overseas.  The bill passed on largely party-line votes in House and Senate. Unless Republicans in both chambers of the legislature can come up with two-thirds supermajorities, McAuliffe’s veto will stand.

Virginia House Delegate Won’t Run for Reelection in 2017

Virginia House Delegate Rick Morris, who represents the 64th District, announced he will not be running for reelection this fall, according to the Tidewater News. The reason for his decision is to spend more time with his family. According to Richmond Times-Dispatch political columnist Jeff Schapiro, “Morris was ensnared in domestic abuse scandal and long resisted demands by fellow Republicans, including @SpeakerHowell, that he quit.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia plans to challenge 45 Republican incumbents in the House of Delegates this coming fall, 17 of which represent districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election – the third consecutive cycle the Commonwealth has gone to the Democratic candidate. According to Ballotpedia, Morris was first elected in 2011 after ousting incumbent Democrat Bill Barlow 55-44, and was reelected unopposed in 2013 and 2015.

Rex Alphin and Emily Brewer have entered the race for the Republican nomination. Three candidates – Rebecca Colaw, John Wandling, and Jerry Cantrell – are running for the Democratic nomination. Primary day in Virginia is scheduled for June 13.

Democrats Win Two Out of Three Connecticut Special Elections

While most journalists and political junkies had their eyes on Washington for President Trump’s address to Congress, Democrats were having a pretty good night in Connecticut, winning two out of three legislative special elections held that day:

In three special elections Tuesday night, Connecticut voters did nothing to shift the balance of power in the evenly split Senate or closely divided House, despite furious efforts to make one race a referendum on President Trump and another on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Democrat Dorinda Borer easily defeated Republican Edward R. Granfield in the 115th House District of West Haven to succeed Stephen D. Dargan, a Democrat who resigned to accept a post on the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Borer’s victory only briefly restored Democrats to the 79-72 House majority they won on Nov. 8, since Rep. Douglas McCrory, D-Hartford, and Rep. Eric Berthel, R-Watertown, now will resign after winning Senate seats in the 2nd District of greater Hartford and 32nd District outside Waterbury.

With the ability of Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman to break tie votes in the 18-18 Senate, Connecticut remains one of just a half-dozen states with a Democratic governor and state legislature.

In the 32nd Senate District, Berthel won comfortably over Democrat Greg Cava of Roxbury in a race that Democratic activists worked with some success to nationalize as a referendum on Trump: In the most Republican Senate district in the state, Cava lost by 10 percentage points, which Democrats say is their best showing there in decades.

After losing three Senate seats and eight House seats in November, despite Hillary Clinton’s carrying the state over Trump, Democrats were ready to celebrate the results of the special elections Tuesday as harbingers of better things to come in 2018.

These are the latest in a series of state legislative victories for Democrats since last November’s elections, having won (or defended) seats in special elections in Iowa, Virginia and Delaware. Reaction from Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post:

“Congratulations to Rep.-elect Borer and Sen.-elect McCrory on their successes in today’s elections,” said Post. “These talented candidates with strong commitments to public service have brought the list of Democratic electoral victories to five in the scant six weeks Trump has been in the White House. DLCC is thrilled by these latest victories, which are just the latest expression of Democrats’ level of energy and engagement as voters reject Trump’s GOP and fight Republicans’ extreme and bigoted agenda on all fronts.”

Supreme Court Orders Review of Virginia House Districts for Racial Gerrymandering

The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 that the Eastern District Court of Virginia used “an incorrect legal standard to determine that race did not predominate” in 11 of the 12 Virginia House of Delegates districts in the case in the aftermath of the 2010 census.  Voters in those redrawn districts filed suit arguing that the new districts violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The case – Bethune Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections – was remanded back to the Eastern District Court of Virginia “for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The decision comes eight months before gubernatorial and legislative races in Virginia. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Anti-gerrymandering advocates hailed the ruling as a victory for efforts to produce a more competitive political map, though the Supreme Court chose to leave it to a U.S. District Court to rehear the case, applying a different legal standard.”

Democratic election attorney Marc Elias, who represented the plaintiffs in the case, took to Twitter to call the decision a “major redistricting victory… Big win against GOP racial gerrymandering.”

Read more details about the case from SCOTUSblog.

UPDATE: Here’s a sampling of reactions to the court decision.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez:

“Voters should choose their elected leaders – not the other way around. But for years, Virginia Republicans have schemed to change the state’s legislative districts to rig elections in their favor. But efforts to combat these extreme partisan tactics are succeeding at every level. The Supreme Court’s decision this morning and a  key state court decision yesterday have put us firmly on the path to ensuring Republican gerrymandering efforts will fail. We must continue to fight back against discriminatory efforts to block access to the ballot box and that is why I have vowed to create a fully staffed Voter Empowerment and Protection Office so that we can ensure that disenfranchisement through gerrymandering becomes a thing of the past.”

Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee Executive Director Jessica Post:

“Virginia Republicans illegally silenced the voices of African-American voters, and today’s ruling is a step towards giving all Virginians fair representation in their government,” said Post. “The district maps engineered by Republican legislators diminished the voices of specific groups of voters just to protect GOP power. This court decision, along with recent rulings in Alabama and Wisconsin, mark important progress in the fight to enfranchise voters and dismantle artificial Republican majorities, and these decisions serve as incontrovertible evidence that Republicans can’t be trusted to protect voters’ rights in the next round of redistricting. DLCC continues our fight to elect more Democratic lawmakers to dislodge map-drawing pens from the grip of the GOP.”

Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring:

“Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, and we applaud the court’s decision as a critical step toward correcting a system that is rigged. Voters should choose their representatives, but in Virginia, it’s the other way around. Seventy-four percent of Virginians support giving control of redistricting to an independent commission, and we saw unprecedented public demand during the last legislative session for meaningful reform. We look forward to the continued progression of this case, and we renew our commitment to ending gerrymandering in Virginia.”

There are no public statements from the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Virginia, or the Virginia House Republican Caucus as of this writing. Any comment or statement they make will be added in a future update.

UPDATE II: Marc Elias points out this Election Law Blog analysis of the ruling by Richard Pildes:

As someone who litigates these cases and has written extensively about racial redistricting, I consider today’s decision a major new precedent with broad implications, not just for racial gerrymandering issues, but for partisan gerrymandering ones potentially as well.

On racial gerrymandering and the Constitution, the Court’s opinion today is more forceful and clear than it has ever been that unconstitutional racial gerrymandering can occur even when a State draws districts that look regular and follow traditional districting principles.

This principle is going to make it significantly easier for plaintiffs to win racial gerrymandering claims.

UPDATE III: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe sent a letter to Virginia House and Senate Majority Leaders asking them to work with him to draw new district lines so that they can be in place in time for the fall elections. Here’s the key graphs:

This ruling sets the stage for protracted litigation at taxpayer-expense and further delay that will cast a shadow over our upcoming legislative elections — unless we find a more productive path forward. So today, I write to ask you and the House Republican Caucus to drop your defense of Virginia’s gerrymandered map and work with me on the nonpartisan redistricting plan our Commonwealth deserves.

To accomplish this, I ask that you agree to settle this litigation in a way that empowers the General Assembly to redraw the eleven House of Delegates districts that have been sent back to the District Court. Once that settlement is finalized, I am prepared to call a special session in order to pass new lines that have been prepared by an independent, nonpartisan panel. If we act quickly, we can finalize a new map before the 2017 legislative elections and prevent Virginians from voting yet again in unconstitutional gerrymandered districts.

For too long, the redistricting process has been defined by partisanship, racial politics, and costly litigation. Today we have the opportunity to reverse that history and put our Commonwealth on the right side of one of the most important issues of our time. I hope you will consider this request and join me in a nonpartisan process to strengthen democracy in Virginia.

Delaware Senate Race Metrics

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee sent out these figures in the aftermath of its victory in the Delaware Senate District 10 race.

  • Donors from all 50 states contributed to the Stephanie Hansen campaign.
  • More than 1,000 volunteers knocked on nearly 90,000 doors and made more than 60,000 phone calls.
  • Hansen, her staff, and her volunteers had more than 21,000 separate conversations with voters.
  • Hansen won 1,000 more votes on a Saturday special election in an off-year than the previous incumbent, Bethany Hall-Long, received in 2014. Hall-Long resigned the seat following her election as lieutenant governor.
  • Legislative Majority PAC – the DLCC’s affiliated super PAC and independent expenditure operation – helped produce more than $500,000 in ads and mail.

Minnesota DFL Chairman Elected President of State Chairs Association

ATLANTA – Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, was elected president of the Association of State Democratic Chairs, defeating Connecticut Democratic Party chairman Nick Baletto and Democratic Party of Virginia chairwoman Susan Swecker in a race that took three ballots to determine the victor. The Minnesota DFL will have considerable influence within the Democratic National Committee because two of its members – Martin and Rep. Keith Ellison – will hold senior positions in the party.

Swecker dropped out after the first ballot. The second ballot – a head-to-head matchup between Martin and Baletto – ended in a 56-56 tie, prompting the outgoing ASDC president Ray Buckley to quip, “God wants me to remain as president a while longer.” Martin won 62-48 on the third ballot.

In between ballots, Buckley asked South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison and Idaho Democratic Party executive director Sally Boynton Brown to join him at the front of the room to discuss the recent chairman race. He pointed out that all three of them brought the perspective and the issues facing the state parties to the top of the agenda in the race for the chairmanship.

“We traveled across this country to make sure your voice was heard,” Buckley said. “We educated not only the other candidates, but hundreds of thousands of people who watched the debates.” He noted that regardless of the subject of the question, “We went back to talking about state parties.”

Buckley also said that the relationship between the state parties and the DNC would change in a short time, noting that “We’ll be getting back in the winning business.”

Shortly after, the newly elected DNC chairman Tom Perez entered the meeting to a standing ovation from the state party chairs.  “Is Delaware in the house?” he asked, referring to the special election for the state senate seat that took place the same day. Stephanie Hansen won the race 58-41, up from a narrow 51-49 Democratic win in 2014. Perez pointed out that the DNC made a $300,000 investment in the race and said, “That’s the new paradigm.”

“I have an unlimited reservoir of optimism that we can turn this thing around.”

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I followed up with a Democratic Party official to try to verify and get more information about the $300,000 figure cited by Perez. The official said that if Perez said the DNC invested that amount of money in the race, then he misspoke. The official added that they think Perez said that $300,000 was the total amount spent, not the amount the DNC invested.

The official also added that the DNC helped out in the race through other ways – volunteer recruitment, sending out a Get Out The Vote email, and social media.

Virginia House Democrats Candidate Recruiting Update

Virginia House Democrats announced they have recruited 43 Democratic challengers as  of today, and that they are on track to meeting their recruitment goals before the June 13 filing deadline. Potentially more important (and promising) from their perspective is the fact that 17 of those 43 candidates are in districts won by Hillary Clinton but currently held by Republicans.