I couldn’t be happier with the results of election day – the re-election of President Obama, the election of Tim Kaine, and Democrats picking up seats in both the House and the Senate. But having spent from 5 am to 9:30 pm working with attorneys helping voters, it is clear that there are serious problems that need to be addressed, and the Democratic Party should be pushing for reform.
First, we need voting reform. In his election night speech, President Obama noted that many had waited in long lines at the polls and said “we have to fix that.” He is absolutely right – Virginians, who could wait, waited up to six hours at the polls, sometimes in the dark, cold, and rain. Other voters who had to go to work, or attend their families, or at least in one case were running out of oxygen, had to leave and were not able to vote. These lines resulted from too few poll books, malfunctioning poll books, too few election officials, inadequately trained election officials, too few machines, machine breakdowns, the refusal of local electoral boards and local registrars to provide additional staff or equipment or allow the use of optical-read paper ballots to reduce the lines, and the absence of no-excuse early voting. In addition, we had incorrect information given to voters regarding voter ID, voters who should have been registered being turned away, election officials refusing to provide provisional ballots when necessary, insufficient help for voters with disabilities, and the ever popular electronic machines that record your vote for Republicans when you vote for Democrats.
When a lot of Virginians vote (2008 and 2012), we elect Democrats. When few Virginians vote (2009), we elect Republicans. The Republican Party’s four year national effort at voter suppression has made it clear that there are some in the GOP who view a low turnout as their only hope for success. We cannot allow this situation to continue. There is no reason why the Commonwealth (if necessary with help from the Federal government), cannot provide adequate standards, equipment, support, education, and access to allow voters to cast their votes without undergoing such an ordeal. A start would be adoption of no-excuse early voting – currently, Virginians can vote absentee by mail or in person only if they fit into certain categories. There is no good reason why we can’t allow all voters to vote early if they wish. I will offer a resolution at the December 8 DPVA Central Committee meeting in support of Sen. Janet Howell’s legislation providing for early voting. It is only a start though; we need to make sure that all precincts have adequate equipment and staff.
Second, we need redistricting reform, and non-partisan redistricting. Virginia’s congressional delegation is 8-3 Republican. You would think, looking at that 2-1 split that Virginia is a Republican state, not a state that went for Obama twice and has two Democratic Senators. Non-partisan redistricting would make our House members more representative of Virginia’s population and hold them accountable. Maybe we could cut a deal with Maryland and have non-partisan redistricting in both state. DPVA has consistently supported non-partisan redistricting.
Third, we need campaign finance reform. It was terrific to see the GOP Super-PACs fail, and I was confident from the beginning that the Obama campaign could outraise as well as out-organize these groups. But further down the ballot, these groups can have a bigger impact. Congress should make it a priority to enact legislation requiring full disclosure from these groups.