They say it is important to vote. That every vote counts. That you can’t complain about government unless you exercise your right to choose it. But with conspiracies and scandals circling around the 2016 presidential election many have begun to question how much one vote really counts. Well for anyone who questions the difference that one vote can make, all one need do is take a look at the state of Virginia.
Last week Virginias were rocked with not one, not two, but three different political scandals. It began with Governor Ralph Northam being accused of racial insensitivity for having a picture of two men in his medical school yearbook. These two individuals were allegedly attending a costume party where one was dressed as a Ku Klux Clan member and the other was dressed in blackface. While Northam initially admitted that one of the two men was him, he later back tracked and said the picture had been linked to him in error by the yearbook staff. He had been confused because at a different party he dressed up like the late singer Michael Jackson and donned blackface for that event.
About two days later, the Lieutenant Governor for the State, Justin Fairfax, weathered his own political storm when he was accused of sexually assaulting a woman in 2004 in a hotel at the Democratic Convention in 2004. A second woman came forward a few days after that claiming a similar incident in 2000 while her and Fairfax were students at Duke University. It is believed that on Monday, Democratic lawmakers in the state will move to begin impeachment of Fairfax. However, the Lieutenant Governor still claims his innocence and asks for patience while an independent investigation by the FBI occur.
The final nail in the coffin occurred, when the State’s Attorney General and third in the line to the governorship, Mark Herring, admitted wearing blackface at a Halloween party in the 1980’s when he was in college. At the time a teenager, Herring has taken a different approach than the others and fully admitted the transgression. He has now since asked for forgiveness writing, “That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others. It was really a minimization of both people of color, and a minimization of a horrific history I knew well even then…”
If all three men resigned or were forced to leave, forth in line for the governorship is Speaker of the State House Kirk Cox. A Republican, Cox has remained mostly silent through the turmoil. Perhaps his silence is strategic or perhaps it is simply a desire not to step into a political mine field. Whatever the case, voters in Virginia may be disappointed if Cox becomes Governor. The reason for this disappointment focuses on how Cox came to office. In 2017, Virginia held elections for state offices. Going into these races, the makeup of the house of delegates was 66-34 in favor of Republicans. At the end of the elections, Cox’s party eked out a majority by one delegate (51-49). This is because a tie vote occurred in one district where Republican David Yancey was chosen by lottery after his name was pulled from a “decorative, blue bowl” by the election committee. If not for the fates being in the Republicans’ favor, the house would have been a tie and the speaker most likely a Democrat.
So as Virginias wait this week to see who if any of their three duly elected officers resigns, they have to be asking themselves, if only one more person had voted in the Yancey race the Governorship could remain Democrat. But no matter what your party affiliation, next time someone tells you your vote doesn’t matter, think again.
Last week the US House of Representatives proposed legislation to increase voter turnout by making election day a holiday. According to a poll taken in November 2018, a majority of Americans agree in the proposal. Proponents of making Election Day a holiday say it would give voters more access to the polls by providing them more time to vote. Opponents argue shutting down businesses could have a negative impact on revenue, and would only affect a minority of workers. Whatever your take on this potential policy change in how we view election day, contact your representative and let them know how you feel. Remember every vote counts!
-By Marc Consalo, Director of the Center for Law and Policy