Virginia’s not the only electoral battleground with a Republican-ruled legislature where President Barack Obama mopped up last year en route to re-election. But it is the first to act on an ambitious menu of Republican legislation aimed at preventing another Democratic triumph. The result beckons partisan paralysis of the state Senate and a budget stalemate for the second consecutive year and the death of important education and transportation reforms. The long-term consequences, however, are more sobering. First, let’s review. Democrats turned out in huge numbers in Virginia last fall despite the state’s brand new voter identification law, creating waiting lines of four hours or more at some jammed polling places. So this year, Republicans propose even tougher identification standards, including one bill that would compel voters to present photo identification.
Bills by Democrats and even one Republican to reduce long election day lines by loosening criteria for early absentee voting have been summarily killed one after another in GOP-dominated House subcommittees over the first 17 days of the 46-day session.
One week ago, on the Martin Luther King holiday, the Senate’s 20 Republicans caught one of the Senate’s 20 Democrats — civil rights lawyer Henry Marsh — away at President Barack Obama’s inauguration and, without notice and in about 30 minutes, muscled through a pro-Republican redraft of all 40 Senate seats on a party-line 20-19 vote.
The next day, a Senate subcommittee advanced Sen. Charles W. Carrico’s bill to scrap Virginia’s winner-takes-all method of awarding its 13 electoral votes in presidential elections and instead apportion electors by congressional district to the candidate who wins each district. Under Carrico’s bill, Obama would have won only four electoral votes from Virginia last fall while Republican Mitt Romney would have won nine, even though Obama won 51 percent of the statewide popular vote to Romney’s 47 percent.
Republican-led legislatures in other states Obama won — Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — are considering similar measures with Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus cheering on the initiative.