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 Republican Delegate Running for Clerk of the Court in Prince William County

Some news out of Prince William County last night, according to the conservative Virginia political blog The Bull Elephant:

At the Prince William County Lincoln Reagan dinner on Saturday night Delegate Jackson Miller announced he is running for Clerk of the Court in a special election on April 18th.  Jackson Miller has been in the House of Delegates since 2007. The position is vacant following the death of Clerk Michele McQuigg last month.  She was elected in 2008.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Miller was first elected to represent Virginia’s 50th district in the House of Delegates in a special election in 2006 and, with the exception of 2011 when he ran for reelection unopposed, has been reelected by a low-50 to low-60 percent margin. The 50th district includes the Washington DC suburbs of the city of Manassas and part of Prince William County. According to official results from the Virginia Department of Elections,  Hillary Clinton won Prince William County 57-36. This means Democrats will probably see the 50th District as an even bigger pickup opportunity this fall if Miller is elected Clerk of the Court and the Virginia GOP has to defend his open seat. Lee Carter is the only Democrat currently running for this seat, although if Carter resigns from the seat, it is possible more Democrats and certainly more Republicans will get in the race and compete for their respective party’s nomination.

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.

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.

Virginia Poll Results

Quinnipiac University released the results of a new Virginia poll.  Here are the highlights:

  • For the 2018 Senate race, Democrat Tim Kaine leads hypothetical matchups against two Republican women: Laura Ingraham (56-36) and Carly Fiorina (57-36).
  • President Trump has a 38-56 job approval rating in Virginia.
    • Republicans approve 81-11
    • Democrats disapprove 95-3
    • Independents disapprove 57-37
    • Whites approve 46-48
    • Non-whites disapprove 76-20
  • President Trump’s travel ban has a 55-42 percent disapproval rating. (Keep in mind Virginia attorney general Mark Harring has challenged it in court)
  • Virginia voters think Judge Neil Gorsuch should be confirmed to the Supreme Court by a 49-31 margin.
  • Virginia voters think home-schooled students should be able to play on public school sports teams, by an overwhelming 71-23 margin.

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.

Richmond Democrat Wins Special Election for Virginia House Seat

Richmond School Board member Jeff Bourne is now the newest member of the Virginia House of Delegates, having defeated Libertarian candidate John Barclay and Independent candidate Regie Ford with a whopping 89 percent of the vote in the special election for the Commonwealth’s 71st House District.

The 71st District, which includes parts of Richmond and Henrico County, was previously represented by Democratic Delegate Jennifer McClellan, who vacated the seat after being elected to represent the 9th Senate District. This election gives Republicans a 66-34 majority in the House.  Bourne and the other members of the House of Delegates are up for reelection in November of 2017.

Statement from Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker:

“Congratulations to Delegate-Elect Jeff Bourne on his victory in Virginia’s 71st House District. Jeff brings a fresh vision and passion for public service and he’ll fight for Virginia families, education, and good-paying jobs. We look forward to seeing what lies ahead for Jeff in his new role in the House.”

Statement from DLCC Executive Director Jessica Post:

“Congratulations to Delegate-elect Bourne on his success tonight,” said Post. “An outstanding legislative candidate with a strong background in public service has won the second consecutive election since President Trump’s inauguration – a crucial contrast to an administration already rife with desperation and incompetence. DLCC is thrilled by Del.-elect Bourne’s victory. He reflects both Democratic and Virginia values, and his win is just one of many electoral victories to come for down-ballot Democrats as voters reject the Trump administration’s extreme and bigoted agenda.”