Democracy is all about voting. The trajectory of voting from the founding of the United States has been to increase the number of participants, from the colonial yeoman farmer and town craftsman to today’s diverse society of high tech workers, indispensable teachers, farmers, entrepreneurs, and health care providers.
The voting franchise has been inseparable from the progress of democracy. Following the Civil War, African-Americans were denied the vote in brutal and insidious ways for more than a hundred years. Women fought and died for it, and are still under-represented in our governments. Immigrant groups had to secure it. Even today, the President asserts, without evidence, that he won the popular vote total, because winning the vote is a mark of legitimacy in a democracy. Nevertheless, armed with exaggerated fears of virtually nonexistent voter fraud, the Republicans march on with new Jim Crow like restrictions, which in North Carolina’s case, the court decreed were surgically precise in restricting the vote of African-Americans, the elderly and other minorities.
It is therefore with some astonishment that we look at the results of this month’s election in Virginia. High Democratic voter turnout was the first breathtaking part of this election. Pre-election polls predicted a close race, but in the end, Democratic candidate for Governor Ralph Northam won a substantial victory by 54% to 45%, his running mates, Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring won by similar margins. Democratic voter turnout was not only substantial in urban Virginia, but rural Culpeper also saw significant voter totals for the state-wide candidates and for the two local House of Delegates candidates.
I cannot emphasize enough how much voter turnout was due to the many grassroots “indivisible” groups that sprang up after the election of Donald Trump and the women’s march the day after his inauguration. We have four such groups that are extremely active, right around here: “The Culpeper Persisters,” “All in 4 All,” “Straight Outta Warrenton,” and the “Madison Huddle.” There are 58 more of these groups within a fifty-mile radius.
Another noteworthy factor in this election was the number of Democratic candidates who ran for 88 of the 100 House of Delegate seats. As of November 16th, they felled twelve Republican incumbents and flipped three open seats to the Democrats. eleven of the victors were women. Presently, Republicans hold a slim 50-49 majority, with three races headed for recounts. As, “The Nation” put it, “A stunning wave of first-time female candidates won races for the Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday night—and helped propel their all-male slate of statewide candidates to a decisive victory.” A slew of conservative white men was replaced by candidates who represented precisely the targets the white supremacists in Charlottesville tried to dehumanize. These robust candidates drew highly motivated people to them who knocked on doors, made phone calls to neighbors, revolutionized the use of social media, and attended fundraisers in large numbers. One homeowner living on a dead-end road in rural Madison County remarked that he had never had a candidate come to his door and was astonished to see Ben Hixon standing there.
If Democracy has returned to the ballot box, then perhaps it will return to the deliberations of the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. If the two parties are evenly split or only one or two votes apart, gone will be socially divisive bills like the transvaginal ultrasound, anti-immigrant measures, voter restrictions, or a whole host of other bills on issues, like nonsensical bathroom bills, that do not solve real world problems. Perhaps a more evenly divided legislature will make real efforts to expand rural broadband to all parts of the Commonwealth to help our farmers run their businesses and expand their markets, help students do their homework and make better lives possible for all. A more evenly divided legislature may mean less ideology and more compromise. Governor-elect Ralph Northam has a relationship with Republicans that goes back many years and hopefully this will contribute to making governing more civil.
Elections have consequences – a theme we frequently repeat – and to have the consequences you would like to see, then you must vote. If you don’t vote, don’t complain. Democrats stood up and were counted in this election. But, they must not rest on their laurels. There are other elections on the horizon: next year’s Senate and House of Representatives, and in 2019, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates elections, which are key to ending gerrymandering in Virginia, once and for all.
Resist, insist, persist, enlist.
Dave is a retired Foreign Service Officer with more than 40 years of experience in intelligence and State Department tours in Asia, the Middle East, and the Pentagon. He lives in Culpeper
Editor’s Note: This op-ed has been re-posted with the author’s permission, and originally appeared in the November 18th print edition of the Culpeper Star Exponent, and later on-line on the 20th and can be seen here.