Del. Alfonso Lopez had some interesting comments about The Health of State Democracies (or, in Virginia’s case, the lack thereof) on this CAP Action Fund panel earlier today. Here are a few highlights (Del. Lopez starts at around 25 minutes in):
*Del. Lopez noted that Virginia “prides itself on being #1 in everything,” but the “fact that we came in 50th out of 51” in the health of our democracy indicates that “we have a lot to do” in this area.
*Although Gov. McAuliffe has “vetoed some of the blatantly transparent anti-voter-access bills [put forward by Republicans]…we have only upwards to go.”
*Del. Lopez said that, in the end, he “really wasn’t” surprised at Virginia’s 50/51 ranking.
*Del. Lopez noted that in 2008, in South Arlington (“one of the poorer areas of Northern Virginia,” also very diverse), he waited 3 hours and 45 minutes to vote…lines went out the door.”
*Now, as if that’s not bad enough, add in the negative impact of Republican-sponsored voter ID laws, which are “transparent in their impact, they’re simply trying to make it harder for people living on the margins of society – new Americans, immigrants, the poor, the elderly – to vote, and the fact is that’s wrong.”
*The “sole purpose” of the Virginia House of Delegates Privileges and Elections Committee, in Del. Lopez’s view, “is to make it harder to vote as opposed to expand[ing] access.”
*Despite rapidly increasing population diversity in Virginia, “we’re still behind Mississippi in the number of women in the House of Delegates; I’m the first Latino Democrat ever elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 400 years…what does that say…we’re not truly represented.”
*”If you look at the Republican House caucus, it’s all white men, or nearly...we have a long way to go.”
*With regard to the influence of money in politics, Del. Lopez says it’s the “Wild West in Virginia…when we’re getting $25k, $100k checks…that skews democracy in some ways…We have a long way to go.”
*”There are several races that will cost around $1 million for us to match the Republicans’ efforts” this year in the House of Delegates.
*Del. Lopez raised the issue of gerrymandering, noting that Democrats have won all statewide elections, yet the House of Delegates is 68-32 Republican, and “that’s gerrymandering of the most calculating kind.”
*In addition, we have “off-off-off-year” elections for the Virginia General Assembly with extremely low turnout; this is “one of the last remnants of the segregationist Byrd machine, of actually trying to suppress turnout.”
*Del. Lopez also decried the fact that Virginia is one of only four states to not automatically restore ex-felons’ voting rights, yet another remnant of the “segregationist Byrd machine.”
*Del. Lopez said that Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is “incredibly effective…I am a big proponent of IRV.” (I couldn’t agree more; this is a no brainer)
*In the end, Del. Lopez said “we are fighting the good fight” and “will win eventually,” but “we shouldn’t have to litigate healthy democracy” (as is actually happening right now in Virginia pertaining to gerrymandering of Congressional and Virginia House of Delegates districts). Del. Lopez adds that it’s possible we could have to redraw all of Virginia’s House of Delegates districts and elections in 2016. If that happens, Del. Lopez believes that Democrats could go from 32 seats in the House of Delegates to the “mid 40s,” given that there are 18 districts currently held by Republicans that were won twice by Barack Obama.