Virginia GOP tries to dilute African-American vote

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You can call Virginia Republicans' plan to steamroll a new redistricting scheme through the General Assembly gerrymandering or sour grapes after they lost the commonwealth to President Obama.

Take your pick.

On Inauguration Day, Senate Republicans took advantage of the absence of Democrat Henry Marsh, a civil rights hero who was attending the ceremony, to pass a huge mid-decade redistricting bill. However, public pressure may cause Republicans to fold this time.

Marsh's absence gave the Republicans the opportunity they needed to pass the bill. The Senate is split 20-20 between the parties and the bill would have failed on a tie vote had Marsh been able to vote. Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would have voted against the bill.

The new plan would have created a sixth majority minority district and put two incumbents in the same district. The new minority district would have run from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the James River. The plan also weakens at least 12 incumbent Democratic senators by reducing the number of African-American voters in their districts.

"This was nothing more than what I call plantation politics," said Senator Donald McEachin, chairman of the Democratic caucus.

Republicans say adding a new majority minority district would prevent Virginia from being sued under the Voting Rights Act. Senator Richard Saslaw, the Democratic minority leader, used an expletive to describe Republican concerns for Black voters. He said Republicans, in 2011, blocked efforts to create a new Congressional district with a high percentage of blacks.

Tweaking districts after the lines have been drawn is not new. A major overhaul of the legislative boundaries after lines have been redrawn is major.

Virginia Republican scheming didn't stop there. Like a few other states won my President Obama and whose legislatures are controlled by Republicans, legislators are considering a bill that would change how electoral votes are awarded by the state in Presidential elections. 

Currently, the top voter getting earns all of Virginia's 13 electoral votes. That's not good enough for spoilsports in the Republican controlled legislature.

Republicans want to change it so that electoral votes are awarded based on the top vote getter in congressional districts. Virginia's plan goes one step further. The two at-large electoral votes would be awarded to the candidate who won the most electoral votes. Guess who that was in 2012?

If the GOP plan had been in effect, Republican Mitt Romney would have won nine electoral votes to four4 for President Obama.

The good news is two GOP senators, Ralph Smith of Roanoke and Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester, have indicated they might vote against the bill.

"What if all states got to skewing it to their own advantage? Smith told the Roanoke Times.

Let's not forget another scheme working through the State Capitol. Delegate. D.W. Marshall, R-Danville, wants to stop schools from being used as voting precincts.

Marshall's logic is that his bill would keep children safe from someone planting weapons inside of a school on Election Day. The State Board of Elections said Marshall's bill "could have a substantial impact on localities." Almost 50 percent of the polling places in Virginia are in schools, and in some localities a vast majority of polling places are located in schools. Localities would need to rent space from private facilities to conduct elections.

Another bill introduced by Marshall would make it easier for voters 65 and older to vote absentee without an excuse. Virginia currently requires voters to have a specific reason, that is approved by the State Board of Elections, in order to vote absentee. There are no early voting provisions in Virginia. What is interesting in Virginia is that voters 65 and older voted for Romney 54 percent to 46 for President Obama.

Photo: Lawmaker and civil rights leader Henry Marsh (left).   Facebook page

 

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