It was not only Martin Luther King Day...it was the second inauguration of our first black President. A day to be proud of on so many fronts...and a day that Virginia state Sen. Henry Marsh (D), 79-years-old and a civil rights veteran in his own right, traveled to DC to witness history.
Taking advantage of his absence (making a 20-20 R/D split a 20-19 one), the Virginia GOP Senators forced a mid-term redistricting plan through via amendments to a House bill that had only held minor corrections to existing congressional district lines when written. The move was a surprise to all Democrats, and even caught Republican Governor Bob McDonnell unawares (supposedly).
The bill passed 20-19, and the outcry was immediate. Not only did they take advantage of a civil rights veteran's attendance at our President's inauguration to surreptitiously push through their revised bill...once they passed it, they adjourned in honor of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson. Yes, on Martin Luther King day, they pushed through a bill to weaken the power of black votes in Virginia and then adjourned in honor of a CONFEDERATE. Oy.
As if state electoral shenanigans are not slimy enough, Virginia is leading the pack when it comes to States whose GOP are trying to alter the way their electoral votes are apportioned. While Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are also trying to pass similar laws, Virginia is furthest along in implementing their plans.
Luckily, the bill is likely 'illegal' when held up to the Voters Right Act. Unluckily, that very same Voters Right Act may well be repealed by Robert's Supreme Court later this year. Double Oy.
But in Virginia, where the plan has advanced the furthest, several voting-rights experts told MSNBC.com it could be on shaky legal ground. Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act requires certain states, including Virginia, to clear any voting changes with the U.S. Justice Department. If the Feds find that the change would have a "retrogressive effect" on minority voters, they can block it.
It seems pretty clear where the plan runs into trouble when existing law is applied:
"Does this change make African-American voters worse off than they were before?" asked Daniel Tokaji, a prominent election-law scholar and a professor at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University, laying out what he said was the key legal question at issue. "It's hard to argue it doesn't."
The bill in question would give districts one each of 11 of Virginia's 13 electoral votes. The final 2 votes would go to the Presidential candidate who wins the most districts in the State. Using those numbers, Obama (who won 51.2% of Virginia's votes in the 2012 election) would only have received four electoral votes to Romney's NINE. You can see why the GOP wants to play shady.
In this case, though, it is too shady for even some GOP Senators. Two have said they will not support the plan. Not only does it not have the support of all GOP Senators, but Governor McDonnell has been hesitant to show support as well (he has eyes on higher office and does not want to appear to be a hyper-partisan). So, for now at least, the odds of it making its way to his desk are slim, and the odds of him signing it into law are, perhaps, even slimmer.
That panel tilts in favor of Republicans by an 8-7 margin, but two GOP members - Smith and Vogel - plan to oppose it.
Smith's concern is that changing Virginia's system would put it odds with most other states; only Maine and Nebraska proportionately award electors.
"That would be manipulating the system," Smith said. "I'm partisan, but I very much believe in a level playing field."
A spokesman for McDonnell said the governor believes "Virginia's existing system works just fine as it is."
Whether or not either bill becomes law, it is frightening that their passage would be so blatantly attempted.
An astute observer did the math and commented to the Virginian-Pilot article on the matter:
Glad to see some Republicans have a brain
Submitted by absdoggy on Fri, 01/25/2013 at 3:20 pm.
I am glad to see this: one person, one vote, not one district, one vote.
Moreover, there's some very interesting math when you look at what this proposal would have done had it been in effect in 2012:
Obama won 51.2% of the vote. But, under this scheme, he would have garnered only 4 out of the 13 electoral votes.
4/13 electoral votes divided by the 51.2% of the voters he won gives us -
WAIT FOR IT . . .
3/5. Yes, that's right, the Republicans would have treated Obama voters as 3/5 of a person. Ring any bells? No wonder they like this.
If the hyper-partisan district lines are allowed to be redrawn, it would pretty much provide a protected and permanent State GOP majority.
If Virginia and the other States attempting to reapportion their electoral votes were to all succeed...it would become much more difficult for a Democrat to win the Presidency. If their plans were to become the national norm (admittedly, not likely) it would be nearly impossible to elect a Democratic President. Makes me shudder.
What worries me most, honestly, is that Virginia is just one State dealing with such crooked and unethical tactics. Were the electoral votes appointed Nationally the way Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin Republicans are now fighting for...Obama would have lost to Romney by 6 electoral votes (despite having won millions more actual votes).
I would like to believe that such flagrant and shameless abuses of our Electoral process would be rebuked and and cast aside by majorities at both State and National levels...but, I'm no Pollyanna. The GOP has gerrymandered their way to a near permanent majority in the House of Representatives...and they are doing their damnedest to do the same in State Houses across the nation. It is a slow creeping power grab...and thus far seems to be working way too well.
For now we must watch closely and hope that the Supreme Court upholds the Voting Rights Act as a still necessary guardian of civil rights. Watch closely and hope that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's aspirations towards higher office sway him towards governing in a fair and just manner. Watch closely and hope that SANE GOP Senators stand up to their colleagues and refuse to change established electoral law.
We need to watch closely, speak loudly and act quickly...because it is exceedingly evident that the GOP intends to take their plan Nationwide. If they should succeed, Lord help us all.
At least in Virginia, for now, their plans have run into troubles. Let us hope that those troubles continue to plague them and their grand attempts at cheating the system result in nothing but failure.