My Two Cents: Protecting the Ballot

by Steven Johnson

I’m tired. You’re tired. Were all tired. We’ve been through a ceaseless stream of elections that would have been emotionally draining even in non-pandemic times.

But there’s no rest for the weary. Not this year. Not when the right to vote is involved.

We have some terrific candidates for the General Assembly this year. Rachel Levy will represent our party proudly on the ballot this year and we need to make sure we do everything we can do to support her, and possibly flip a seat in the House of Delegates.

We cannot lose control of the House of Delegates this year. Right now, Democrats hold a 55-45 advantage, but that is tenuous at best.

Just look to our north in House District, which encompasses parts of Stafford and Prince William counties. Democrat Candi King just won a special election by 263 votes to fill Jennifer Carrol Foy’s vacated seat. Jennifer won that by more than 4,000 votes in 2019.

Little wonder, then, that elections analyst Chaz Nuttycombe sees the House as “a pure toss-up.”

What’s at stake? Education, the environment, health care … all issues that we care about. We will work hard to keep the governor’s mansion so those issues remain a priority (no Senate this year).

But if Republicans gain control of the Virginia House of Delegates, we know they will have a different to-do list — measures to control ballot access.

Many of us watched as Republican lawmakers in Georgia fast-tracked a 95-page bill to change voting procedures in the Peach State; most importantly, giving the GOP-controlled legislature the ability to override county election boards. President Biden called the actions a new form of Jim Crow even as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said the bill would better secure a vote than was never proven to be unsecure.

That’s just one battleground. As of February, the nonprofit Brennan Center reported state lawmakers have carried over, prefiled or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states, including five bills in Virginia. 

For instance, HB 2205 would repeal a provision that enables any person who is qualified to register to vote to do so up to and including on the day of the election, regardless of the close of the registration records provided elsewhere in law.

Its author is House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, and it’s a sure bet that the bill would gain traction should Gilbert become majority leader or speaker. It’s just as certain the GOP would look to undo Virginia legislation to open up absentee voting and provide a strict review of local election changes that discriminate against minorities.

We have to be vigilant about ballot access. The GOP is trying to set the stage for sweeping changes later with reasonable-sounding proposals today, like Gilbert’s bid to require the state Department of Elections to purge voter rolls of deceased people every week, instead of every month. We know what will follow. Georgia is proof. Sen. Jen McClellan says Virginia is the first state in the South to proactively protect the right to vote. Let’s mobilize to make sure we keep control of the House of Delegates this year and safeguard that right.