At the core of our Democracy we find a central figure … the vote. Voting is how we elect leaders who make the laws that shape our society. It is how we know we are free people and our voices are heard. It is why politicians of all stripes listen to what we say when we write or call or protest. There is nothing more sacred than the ability to cast your vote and have it matter. During the 2017 legislative session voting rights have been a key figure for debate in Richmond.
This year I sponsored legislation modeled on Oregon’s automatic voter legislation law. It would have make it so that any interaction with the Department of Motor Vehicles would automatically register you to vote (or update your registration) unless you opted-out. Unfortunately, this legislation was laid on the table, meaning it will not advance to the floor for a vote.
Every year I sponsor or co-sponsor legislation to make accessibility to the ballot box less strenuous and more in-line with other states that provide opportunities to vote early and make voting more accessible to populations that need special consideration like the elderly or disabled. This year was no different. There was legislation to make it easier to vote early by doing away with the need for a legal reason to cast an absentee ballot before Election Day. This works for many other states in increasing turnout and shortening long lines on Election Day in many places. There were less sweeping proposals aimed at helping the elderly, but they were all unceremoniously killed in subcommittee early one morning.
That is why making progress in this area is so difficult: Small subcommittees with minimal debate scheduled for the early morning hours when it is unlikely to have people there to testify. Unfortunately, this week we saw some legislation that would take us in the opposite direction of progress and dilute the power of our vote. HB 1425 is modeled on an idea we have seen over the years which would allocate our state’s Electoral College Votes by Congressional District. While I like the idea of the popular vote choosing the President, this will not accomplish that. Our Congressional districts had to be redrawn by court earlier and a case is still pending before the Supreme Court about our state house districts. Under this kind of legislation Electoral College votes would be split and given to candidates based on who won in gerrymandered districts, not the state as a whole or a breakdown based on the percentage of the popular vote.
This is one of many reasons we need to put redistricting in the hands of a non-partisan or bi-partisan commission, taking it out of the hands of the elected officials who could be tempted by the power to draw the lines of the districts which they represent. While there were several bills in the House that would accomplish this, they were also killed in an early morning committee meeting without much debate. I have joined my caucus in calling for an up or down vote on the floor on the redistricting legislation. So far we have been met with silence.
Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice and Counties, Cities, and Towns Committees. You can follow Delegate Herring online at www.charnieleherring.com.