Electoral reform in Virginia

Electoral reform in Virginia

Infobox Electoral reform

caption=The Old Dominion State
voting_systems=Constitutional plurality requirement for statewide executive offices; single transferable vote (STV) can be implemented for state House and Senate elections by appropriate legislation; state law must be changed before a local government can implement instant-runoff voting for executive offices; local governments can implement single transferable vote for their local legislatures and for school board elections.
ballot_access=Requirements are as follows [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+24.2-506 § 24.2-506. Petition of qualified voters required; number of signatures required; certain towns excepted.] , Code of Virginia.] :
*For a candidate for the United States Senate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or Attorney General, 10,000 signatures, including the signatures of at least 400 qualified voters from each congressional district in the Commonwealth;
*For a candidate for the United States House of Representatives, 1,000 signatures;
*For a candidate for the Senate of Virginia, 250 signatures;
*For a candidate for the House of Delegates or for a constitutional office, 125 signatures;
*For a candidate for membership on the governing body or elected school board of any county or city, 125 signatures; or if from an election district not at large containing 1,000 or fewer registered voters, 50 signatures;
*For a candidate for membership on the governing body or elected school board of any town which has more than 1,500 registered voters, 125 signatures; or if from a ward or other district not at large, 25 signatures;
*For membership on the governing body or elected school board of any town which has 1,500 or fewer registered voters, no petition shall be required;
*For a candidate for director of a soil and water conservation district created pursuant to Article 3 (§ 10.1-506 et seq.) of Chapter 5 of Title 10.1, 25 signatures; and
*For any other candidate, 50 signatures.
absentee_ballot=One of the following excuses is required [ [http://www.sbe.state.va.us/cms/Absentee_Documents/VA_Absentee_ballot_application.pdf Virginia Absentee Ballot Application] ] :
*personal business or vacation;
*working and commuting to and from home for 11 or more hours between 6:00 AM and 7:00 PM;
*disability or illness; caregiver; confinement;
*election official;
*religious obligation;
*U.S. uniformed services;
*temporarily residing outside U.S.
initiative=Only on subjects authorized by specific statutes.
redistricting=Joint Reapportionment Committee consisting of House and Senate Privileges and Elections Committee members appointed by those committees' chairs.
voting_equipment=Marksense tabulators, DRE.
youth_voting=Voting age of 18 set by Article II, Section 1 of Constitution of Virginia.
NPV_compact=Bills introduced in both houses in 2007; both failed.
Other=None at this time.

Electoral reform in Virginia refers to efforts to change the electoral system in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia has undergone much electoral change since its settling in 1607, many of which were required by federal legislation. However, it remains a relatively conservative state in this respect compared to California and others which have experimented with various alternative systems.

Direct election of U.S. Senators

Originally, U.S. Senators were chosen by the Virginia General Assembly. On February 19, 1914, legislation was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates calling for the direct election of United States senators by the voters of Virginia [ [http://www.vahistorical.org/onthisday/21914.htm Legislative Moments in Virginia History] , Virginia Historical Society.] . This followed enactment of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on April 8, 1913. Virginia had not voted to ratify the amendment.

Ballot access

There have been many changes designed to make the electoral system more favorable to third parties. These included allowing write-in ballots in U.S. presidential elections. In 1998, SB 316 was passed, changing the number of signatures required for ballot access as follows [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?ses=981&typ=bil&val=sb316 SB 316 Petition requirements in presidential elections.] ] :
*In statewide races, reducing the number of signatures required from 0.5% of the number of registered voters (approximately 17,000 in 1998) to a flat 10,000;
*In congressional district races, reducing the number of signatures required from 0.5% of the number of voters registered in the district (approximately 1,550 signatures based on the January 1, 1998, registered voter total) to 1,000; and
*Increasing the number of signatures required from each congressional district from 200 to 400.

Voting system changes

In 2003, FairVote's analysis of Virginia's voting systems determined that amendments to the Constitution of Virginia might be required to implement instant runoff voting in statewide executive elections [ [http://www.fairvote.org/media/pep/VA.pdf Fair Elections and the Law for the Commonwealth of Virginia] , Elizabeth Reed, FairVote, 2003.] . § 24.2-673 of the Code of Virginia appears to require use of the plurality system in local executive office elections [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+24.2-673 § 24.2-673. Candidates having highest number of votes to receive certificate of election] , Code of Virginia.]

HB 2739, a bill to implement instant runoff voting statewide, was introduced by Del. William K. Barlow in 2003 but stricken at his request [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?031+sum+HB2739 HB 2739 Instant runoff voting to elect candidates to office.] ] . In 2004, Barlow introduced HB 956, a bill to allow IRV on a test basis in localities; it died in committee [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?041+sum+HB956 HB 956 Instant runoff voting; used to elect candidates to local governing bodies and school boards.] ] . However, Barlow remained confident that "instant runoff is going to happen soon" [ [http://www.fairvote.org/op_eds/varunoff.htm Legislator's proposal: Vote for a first choice - and a second] , Ron Capshaw, Scott County Virginia Star, January 20, 2003.] . Virginians for Instant Runoff Voting organized in 2006 and launched plans to implement the system in more student government elections [ [http://www.virv.org/ Virginians for Instant Runoff Voting] ] . IRV is presently used in single-winner student government elections at the University of Virginia, as promulgated in III(G)(3) of the Spring 2007 University Board of Elections Rules and Regulations [ [http://www.student.virginia.edu/~vote/documents/ube_rules_regulations_07spring.pdf Spring 2007 University Board of Elections Rules and Regulations] , University of Virginia.] . UVA's use of the system predates VIRV's formation.

Bills to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact were introduced in 2007 [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+HB2742 HB 2742 Presidential elections; agreement among states to elect by National Popular Vote.] ] [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+SB864 SB 864 Presidential elections; agreement among states to elect by National Popular Vote.] ] , but they died in committee. A bill to study Virginia's methods of allocating electoral votes also died in committee [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+SJ325 SJ 325 Electoral College votes; joint subcommittee to study method of allocating.] ] . Virginia is commonly considered a swing state in the upcoming 2008 U.S. Presidential election, which could have interesting effects on the debate of any National Popular Vote bills in the General Assembly session convening in January 2008.

Approval voting appears to be prohibited by laws defining an "overvote" as follows: "'Overvote' means a ballot on which a voter casts a vote for a greater number of candidates or positions than the number for which he was lawfully entitled to vote and no vote shall be counted with respect to that office or issue" [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+24.2-802 § 24.2-802. Procedure for recount] , Code of Virginia.] .

Balloting methods

2007 also saw increased interest in voter verified paper ballots and other measures to regulate electronic voting machines. A bill to establish a pilot project to audit electronic equipment died in committee [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+HB1243 HB 1243 Electronic voting equipment; State Board of Elections to design pilot program.] ] . HB 2707 was passed, requiring the phaseout of direct recording electronic devices and prohibiting wireless communication with voting machines [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+HB2707 HB 2707 Electronic voting equipment; requirements and recount procedures.] ] .

Absentee ballot rights have been expanded in recent years as well. However, a bill to grant absentee ballots without requiring an excuse (e.g. having to work/commute at least 11 hours between 6 AM and 7 PM) was defeated in 2006 [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?061+sum+HB11 HB 11 Absentee voting and ballot applications; no qualification for voters to use.] ] and again in 2007 [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+HB2574 HB 2574 Absentee voting; qualified voters may vote absentee for any reason.] ] as was a bill to allow pregnant women to vote absentee [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+HB2072 HB 2072 Absentee voting; requirements for pregnant women to vote absentee.] ]

Initiative and referendum

Currently, referenda can be submitted to the people only when authorized by statute or charter [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+24.2-684 § 24.2-684. How referendum elections called and held, and the results ascertained and certified] , Code of Virginia.] . The Code specifies numerous types of referenda that voters may petition for, such as a referendum to abolish a county police force [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+15.2-1703 § 15.2-1703. Referendum to abolish county police force] , Code of Virginia.] . With those exceptions, however, voters cannot propose their own referenda. In 1914, an I&R bill was passed by the House of Delegates but failed in the Senate [ [http://www.iandrinstitute.org/Virginia.htm Virginia] , Initiative and Referendum Institute.] . The Hampton, Virginia city charter has an I&R provision, however.


Democrats controlled the Virginia General Assembly for decades, but Republicans gained control at the close of the 20th century [ [http://george.loper.org/archives/2006/Dec/986.html Virginia General Assembly: Winners Exercise Raw Power] , Dec. 2006.] and have used their power to gerrymander districts in their favor, just as the Democrats did. Proposals to establish a redistricting commission or put redistricting in the hands of retired judges have failed. In 2007, a bill was introduced to draw district lines on the basis of political subdivisions and to ban the consideration of incumbency; this bill died in committee [ [http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+sum+HB1629 HB 1629 Redistricting advisory commission; establishment thereof, report.] ] .

Prospects for future reform

Any statewide electoral reform bill must be approved by Privileges and Elections committees in the Virginia House of Delegates [ [http://dela.state.va.us/dela/MemBios.nsf/421281a745e94fae852570c90063d035/5c5624ac192e17cd852570c9005907d5?OpenDocument 2007 House of Delegates Committee Assignment] ] and Virginia Senate [ [http://sov.state.va.us/SenatorDB.nsf/Committee%20Chart%20Full%20Text?OpenForm Senate of Virginia 2007 Standing Committees] ] . Lacey Putney, chair of the House committee, has been reluctant to embrace major changes to the system. Important players in the electoral reform movement include Virginia resident and Libertarian Party national chair Bill Redpath and others associated with FairVote.

External links

* [http://www.fairvote.org/?page=946 Fairvote Virginia] .

* [http://www.neweraforva.org New Electoral Reform Alliance for Virginia]


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