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Every Vote Counts, So Let’s Count Every Vote (the Majority Could be in the Balance)

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by Virginia House Democratic Leader Del. David Toscano

Just two weeks ago on election night, Democrats stood at 49 victories in delegate races as the unofficial results rolled in, with the prospect of recounts being requested in three House districts: HD94 in Newport News, HD40 in Fairfax/Prince William, and HD28 in Stafford/Fredericksburg.

Now that Virginia’s State Board of Elections has certified the official results in 98 House of Delegates races, including HD94 and HD40, petitions for recounts can be filed. A recount in HD94 is especially important because only 10 votes separate our Democratic challenger, Shelly Simonds, from her Republican opponent who was certified yesterday as the winning candidate. We believe there is a real chance, with such a miniscule margin, that a recount will show the true outcome in that race was a Democratic victory.

The situation in HD28 is much more complicated, and interesting. A series of potential problems have unfolded in this race — first, whether a particular group of 55 absentee ballots should have been counted, and then whether certain precincts in the city of Fredericksburg were correctly “split” between HD28 and neighboring HD88 (one symptom of the many problems caused in Virginia by partisan gerrymandering of district lines).

Monday, the Board of Elections heard from its Commissioner that the former local registrar in Fredericksburg (who has since passed away) incorrectly “reassigned” some voters from HD28 to HD88 in late April 2016, and the full extent of this erroneous reassignment is still being investigated. The example the Commissioner gave to the Board, however, indicated that at least 83 voters on one street in Fredericksburg were wrongly reassigned from HD28 into HD88 in the state’s records. The current margin in HD28 between the Democratic and Republican candidates is only 82 votes.

This situation cannot be ignored or discounted by anyone who cares about voting rights and representative democracy. If voters were given ballots with the HD88 candidates listed, when those voters actually live in HD28 and should have received ballots with that race instead, then they were disenfranchised by the state’s action because they were not able to vote for their own representative, as is their right. With Commissioner Cortés’s testimony, we clearly have reason to believe that this happened on November 7, and the Commissioner made it clear that the full extent of the problem may go beyond the 83 voters identified at the meeting. It’s not surprising that the Board of Elections decided not to certify the election results in either HD28 or HD88 yet.

If voters’ rights have been denied, it violates the basic tenets of American democracy. This is something everyone should agree with, whatever their partisan preferences may be. In this particular case, due to the small margin between the two candidates in HD28 — and the role that the outcome in this race could play in determining whether either party holds a majority of the seats in the House of Delegates — the stakes are even higher. Democrats will do everything possible to ensure that all errors in this race are investigated; the rights of the voters who live in HD28 deserve no less