New Report: Virginia Ranks 50 out of 51 in “Health of State Democracies”


    Why is Virginia so godawful in this new report, “The Health of State Democracies,” by the Center for American Progress Action Fund (note: one of the lead authors is former DPVA Executive Director Lauren Harmon)? In short, Virginia scores horrendously – and to anyone who’s followed Virginia politics at all, this is not in the least bit surprising – on three key categories: 1) accessibility of the ballot (Virginia gets an “F”), 2) representation in state government (Virginia gets an “F”), and 3) influence in the political system (Virginia gets a “D-“). A bit more detail on where Virginia fails most miserably includes:

    1. We have no early voting in Virginia.

    2. We do not have “availability of no-fault absentee voting.”

    3. A photo ID is required, for absolutely no good reason (other than Republicans’ mythical “voter fraud,” actually voter suppression), in order to vote in Virginia.

    4. Possibly most disgraceful (and racist) of all: “Ex-felon post-sentence disenfranchisement.” We should have gotten rid of that years ago, as most states have done.

    5. “There are no processes in place for citizen petitions.”

    6. Our Congressional and House of Delegates districts are wildly distorted towards Republicans via insane levels of gerrymandering, making most general elections for House of Delegates and U.S. House of Representatives essentially a foregone conclusion in Virginia.

    7. “Communities of color elected representation” sucks.

    8. Absolutely no “campaign contribution limits for individual donors.” I’d put this one in second place for “most disgraceful,” although insane levels of gerrymandering are also hideous.

    9. Add in no “availability of public campaign financing” and utterly inadequate campaign disclosure laws, and you can see why Virginia well deserves its “F” grades.

    10. Sorry, but a “1-year cooling off period” is not a serious “revolving-door ban.”

    I’d add a few more factors, some of which stem from the Byrd machine’s efforts to limit democracy in Virginia to…well, basically as little as possible. First, it is absolutely outrageous that corporations regulated by the state (I’m looking at you, Dominion!) can get away with “capturing” the Virginia General Assembly, State Corportation Commission, and other bodies that in THEORY are supposed to regulate Dominion et al. That is the epitome of “regulatory capture,” or what I’d call “legalized corruption.”

    Second, Virginia needs to get rid of odd-year elections and align at least our state legislative elections with the federal cycle. Because what happens in odd/off-year election years like 2011 and 2015 is that turnout drops precipitously, meaning that only the most passionate voters, and in the case of Republicans most extreme, come out to vote. The results are as obvious as they are harmful, a small minority of Virginian elects extremists like Dick Black, “Sideshow Bob” Marshall, and many others.

    Finally, we need to seriously revisit the “Dillon Rule,” which prevents cities and counties from doing…well, just about anything. For instance, let’s just say more progressive counties wanted to go beyond Virginia state law in terms of strong environmental protection, more incentives for clean energy, even a carbon tax (revenue neutral or not). Why shouldn’t they be able to do that?  Why shouldn’t Arlington, Fairfax, Richmond, etc. be able to change the names of roads from “Jefferson Davis” or whatever if they want to? In the broadest sense, why can’t at least a bit of power be devolved towards the localities, whose governments are theoretically closest to the people they serve? Oh yeah, another remnant of the Byrd era…sigh.

    • DJRippert

      This is the least understood and least reported big issue in Virginia.  Our state government is an all-powerful disaster zone.  The normal checks and balances on a state legislature are:

      1. Federal government.

      2. State judiciary.

      3. Local government.

      4. The state constitution.

      4. The voters themselves.

      5. The executive branch – the governor.

      The Virginia General Assembly has steadfastly marginalized the checks and balances of each of these outside entities with the partial exception of the federal government which the GA cannot control (although it tries – from Massive Resistance to Medicaid Expansion).

      State judiciary – Virginia is the only state where state judges are directly elected by the legislature with no independent nominating or selection committees.  What’s worse, practicing attorneys in the General Assembly elect and re-elect the very judges who decide their cases.  Appalling.

      Local government – strict Dillon’s Rule construct.  Localities in Virginia are not allowed to determine the height of grass and weeds in their counties without General Assembly approval.  No, I am not kidding – http://scottsurovell.blogspot….

      State constitution – The state constitution is routinely flaunted by the General Assembly.  Virginia’s constitution requires that Congressional and state legislative districts be compact and contiguous.  Take a look at the district outlines determined by the General Assembly.  Do they look compact and contiguous?  I guess somebody could appeal the districts to the state judiciary … oh wait, they are in the pockets of the General Assembly.

      The voters themselves.  Gerrymandering, off year elections, hardest state to get on the ballot as an independent, no term limits for legislators, America’s least competitive state elections, no recall elections, no voter initiated referenda … the voters have been marginalized.

      The executive branch.  Virginia is the only state in America where the sitting governor cannot run for a second consecutive term.  Our governor is a lame duck on the day he or she is inaugurated.

      Virginia’s problems stem from an over-powered, corrupt and unaccountable General Assembly.


    • Jameson

      Alfonso Lopez and the other panelists were eloquent on what needed to be done, and Alfonso was encouraged by the litigation that may result in the redrawing of the state House boundaries.

      The problem is that Republicans would be as proud of that ranking as McAuliffe is of his F from the NRA.

    • dave.arlington

      on #6 above: Weren’t the most recent Senate districts drawn by George Barker and approved through Senate Democrats?

      I was under the impression that they had the approval of AG Holder and the DOJ as well…