Category Archives: Electoral process

Tom Perriello — the Radical Chic Candidate

George Soros

After Virginia gubernatorial candidates filed their campaign finance updates yesterday, all eyes turned to Democratic Party candidate Tom Perriello. The progressive populist, who decries the role of big money in politics, was himself the largest beneficiary of big money of the six announced candidates.

The Perriello campaign pocketed $385,000 from hedge fund billionaire George Soros and two sons, as well as $230,000 from Avaaz, a global activist organization that Perriello co-founded.

Perhaps of greater interest is the large stash raised from Charlottesville, Perriello’s hometown. Never in all my years as an observer of Virginia politics have I seen such large contributions bubble forth from the People’s Republic. Whether this gusher of campaign contributions portends an inflection point in Virginia politics, I don’t know. But it is remarkable.

Here is a list of Perriello’s top donors, with details added from a couple of hour’s worth of Googling:

Sonjia Smith — $500,000. A University of Virginia graduate and Charlottesville resident, Smith is married to hedge fund manager Michael D. Bills, founder of Bluestem Asset Management. In a Roanoke Times column explaining why she supports Perriello, she described herself as a “single-issue voter” on the issue of women’s reproductive rights. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, she had donated $968,000 to Democratic candidates in Virginia through 2016 before stroking the big check to Perriello.

George Soros — $250,000. New Yorker, hedge fund manager, chairman of the Open Society Foundations, and prolific funder of progressive causes.

Avaaz –$230,000. Global, not-for-profit activist group.

Alexander Soros — $125,000. Alexander Soros, son of multibillionaire George Soros, is a New York philanthropist who promotes social justice and human rights causes.

Courtney C. Smith — $75,000. ???

Stephen Silberstein — $50,000. Northern Virginia semiconductor executive.

Christopher Weitz — $25,000. There is a Christopher Weitz who is a New York-born film producer and screen writer. I’m not certain he is one and the same as the donor to Perriello’s campaign.

John Grisham — $25,000. Best-selling author and supporter of progressive causes who lives in the Charlottesville area.

Margaret Gupta — $25,000. Gupta is married to Shashikant Gupta, CEO of Apex CoVantage, a Herndon technology firm. Co-founder of the Gupta Family Foundation, she says that Apex should be “an agent of positive social change.”

Timothy Chapman — $25,000. Chapman heads Reston-based Chapman Development LLC, a developer of affordable housing projects.

Dario O Marquez — $20,000. A former member of the Secret Service, Marquez is co-founder of MNM Inc., an Ashburn-based private security contractor.

Lilly Bechtel — $10,000. Charlottesville yoga instructor, writer and musician.

Kay Leigh Ferguson — $10,000. Ferguson is director of Charlottesville’s Madwoman Project, which produces avant garde theater performances.

Roberta B. Williamson — $10,000. Charlottesville resident. Major donor to Democratic Party candidates.

Stanislav Reisky de Dubnic — $10,000. Reisky de Dubnic is a principal in Charlottesville-based Apex Clean Energy.

Peter Devine — $10,000. ???

David J. Matthews — $10,000. Famed Charlottesville musician.

Jonathan T. Allan Soros — $10,000. Son of George Soros, CEO of New York-based JS Capital Management, and prominent donor to progressive causes.

Laura DeBonis — $10,000. ???

The picture that emerges here is a candidate whose financial support comes overwhelmingly from progressive communities in New York, Northern Virginia and above all Charlottesville. Among big-check donors, he appears to have zero support outside those areas. From his advocacy of a $15 minimum wage and free community college to his support of renewable energy and attacks on electric utilities, he is all on board with the green/social justice agenda. Virginia has never seen a serious statewide candidate like this before.

As Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Jeff Schapiro observes, “Perriello’s candidacy, much like McAuliffe’s losing bid in 2009, is top-down. It is a lot of drama, magnified by millennial-specific social media and cable news breathlessness, intended to capture the votes of Virginians not necessarily active in Democratic politics but absolutely agitated by Donald Trump.”

Hypocrisy alert. Perriello has staked out a position as a pro-green, anti-Dominion candidate opposed to interstate pipelines transporting fracked gas through Virginia. Yet he has accepted $250,000 from George Soros, whose Soros Fund Management in 2016 had holdings in 11 oil and gas companies. Should he return Soros’ money? Should he insist that Soros divest himself of his oil and gas assets? Are his support of renewables and attacks on power companies sincere or opportunistic?

When Registered Voters Outnumber Voting-Age Citizens

Time for a closer look at the number of registered voters in Virginia.

Time for a closer look at the number of registered voters in Virginia. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

Eight localities in Virginia have more registered voters than voting-age citizens, and in another 15 localities registered voters amount to 95% of the voting-age citizens. Sound funny to you?

SB 1105, authored by state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and approved by the Senate, would require registrars to look into the data whenever the ratio exceeds 100%.

America is a mobile country. People move between localities and states frequently. While voters typically think to register in a new locality, I doubt it occurs to them to inform registrars in their former localities that they have departed. Speaking for myself, I would expect registrars to exchange information with each other and figure this out for themselves. But it appears that the administrative systems of some registrars offices are ill equipped to keep up with the population flux. If thousands of people across Virginia are improperly registered in multiple localities, that creates the potential for abuse by unscrupulous individuals.

(Some say that fraudulent voting occurs infrequently, so what’s the point in worrying about it. I would respond this way: We don’t know that it occurs infrequently, only that registrars have no systems in place to determine whether illegal voting is occurring, and that in instances where discrepancies have been reported to local authorities, commonwealth attorneys have shown little interest in prosecuting them.)

Speaking as a citizen, I don’t think it’s too much to ask registrars, perhaps with the assistance of the state, to put processes into effect that systematically update voter rolls for deaths, address changes and improper registration by noncitizens.

By the way, another Obenshain bill would require the periodic audit of voting machines, and a third asks registrars to adopt electronic pollbooks that allow them to match voters’ photo IDs to DMV identification records.

PILF Inquiry into Noncitizen Voting Gains Traction

PILF will gain access to Chesterfield and Manassas documentation on noncitizen voting.

PILF will gain access to Chesterfield and Manassas documentation on noncitizen voting.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) has closed lawsuits against Chesterfield County and the City of Manassas, a step that will allow the organization to determine the total number of noncitizens, known to authorities, who registered and voted illegally.

Under the U.S. motor-voter law, citizens are allowed to register to vote when they pick up their driver’s licenses. Some non-citizens register illegally and later cast ballots. Sometimes registrars spot the illegal registrations and remove the non-citizens from the voter rolls. PILF has obtained the documentation for such instances for eight Virginia jurisdictions, but many, including Chesterfield and Manassas, refused to cooperate, citing privacy laws.

“These are positive steps toward quantifying the true extent of noncitizen voter registration in Virginia,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said in a web post. “Washington and Richmond alike are positioned to consider various election integrity reforms and are right to do so. Those discussions deserve precise data like we’ve obtained.”

PILF’s data dive into the eight cooperating localities found that registrars had uncovered more than 1,000 illegally registered noncitizens and documented that some 200 of them had cast ballots. If the magnitude of noncitizen voting holds true in other Virginia localities, it is possible that more than a thousand noncitizens have cast ballots statewide.

Such a number would fall far short of assertions by President Trump that noncitizens contributed millions of illegal votes nationally but it also would contradict widespread media claims that noncitizen voting is negligible. The data does not include noncitizens whose illegal registrations were not discovered by local registrars.

Less Turnover than the Supreme Soviet

by Brian Cannon

The United States has a dearth of competitive Congressional elections. Of the 435 voting seats in the House of Representatives, only 36 were competitive this past November. Politicians have brilliantly gerrymandered out almost all competition from their districts to ensure themselves easy re-elections. With only about 8% of our elections considered competitive in 2016, President Reagan’s words in 1988 still ring true:

With a 98% rate of re-election, there’s less turnover in the House [of Representatives] than in the Supreme Soviet, and a seat in Congress is one of the most secure jobs in America.

Many factors work against competitive districts – residential sorting, incumbency advantages in campaign finance laws, and gerrymandering all play a role. The first two, however, have First Amendment protections that make them tricky, if not impossible, to address through systematic reform. The last – gerrymandering – does not have a constitutional protection and there are clear legislative paths to address this problem. Confronting gerrymandering also seems to address this competitiveness problem.

A careful examination of the few competitive districts we have shows a clear take away: States with redistricting reform are producing a much larger share of competitive districts than those without reform. Competitive districts are coming from states like Iowa, California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Washington and even New Jersey. Disproportionately so.

• In 2016, of the 36 competitive seats, 15 came from just seven reform states (41.67%).
• In 2014, of the 46 competitive seats, 21 came from those seven reform states (45.65%).

The reform states make up 30% of the seats in the House of Representatives and have created 44% of our competition. Projecting this out with some back-of-the-envelope math based on 2014 and 2016 numbers, we’d have about 60 total competitive seats for our lower chamber if the remaining 44 states adopted reform. Reform doesn’t ensure competition everywhere, but it helps take the politician’s hand from the scale in potential swing districts.

Fortunately, more states are coming on board. Ohio and New York have instituted reform for the upcoming decade with promise of other states following suit. As Henrico resident Mark Hile said recently in a letter supporting redistricting reform to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “If we want better government, let’s expose it to some competition.”

Brian Cannon is executive director of OneVirginia2021.

2016 a Big Year for Libertarian Party

Jessica Abbott, a Libertarian, won a seat on Virginia Beach City Council, but the Libertarian Party still faces obstacles in Virginia.

Jessica Abbott, a Libertarian, won a seat on Virginia Beach City Council.

Unless you read the LP News, you probably didn’t realize that 2016 was a record-breaking year for the Libertarian Party. The national news media tuned out Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson after he suffered his “Aleppo moment,” and his poll numbers fell in the last weeks as the race tightened between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Yet he still won nearly 4.4 million votes — more than three times the previous number garnered by the Libertarian candidate in 2012.

Other third-party candidates have fared better — anyone remember George Wallace and Ross Perot? But the Libertarian Party represents a movement that is bigger and longer lasting than any one candidate. Nearly 500,000 Americans are registered as Libertarians, a new high. Nearly 1.7 million votes were cast for Libertarian candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives, also a new high. In Alaska, the Libertarian candidate won 30% of the vote, beating the Democratic candidate. Dues-paying member have passed the 20,000 mark, the highest level since 2005. (See the Libertarian Party’s take on the outcome here.)

Among other signs of progress, the Libertarian Party now has presidential ballot access in 37 states — more states than after any election in the party’s history. Ballot access means the party’s presidential candidate in 2020 will automatically qualify to run in those states without the necessity of accumulating enough signatures to qualify. The $760,000 it cost the Libertarians to get on the ballots of all 50 states this year may be pocket change to Republicans and Democrats, but it looms large for an independent party.

Libertarians made progress in Virginia, too. Libertarian Jessica Abbott won 59% of the vote in a nonpartisan race for Virginia Beach City Council. Noting that city spending has increased 90% over the past decade while median household income has remained flat, she opposed a proposed $343 million light rail project in the city. As a certified flood insurance agent, she also promised to use her expertise to help Virginia Beach cope with coastal flooding.

Another Virginia Beach Libertarian, Robert Dean, lost the race but won a healthy 41% of the vote.

Libertarians face a challenge in running a candidate for statewide office next year. Virginia has one of the toughest ballot-access laws in the country, a provision that helps cement into place the dominance of the Republican-Democratic duopoly. To become “recognized,” a party must win at least 10% of the vote in a statewide race. Democrats and Republicans have no difficulty reaching that threshhold, so Democratic and Republican candidates get free ballot access. By contrast, Libertarians (and any other independent or third-party candidate) must acquire 10,000 signatures.

As a practical matter, third-party candidates must get more than 10,000 because the signatures must be verified by state electoral authorities, and it is common for a significant percentage to be thrown out. A rule-of-thumb cost to hire signature gatherers is about $2.50 per sign-up. That translates into potential expenditures of $25,000. Again, that is pocket money for Democrats and Republicans but a hurdle for Libertarians. Robert Sarvis, who won 6.5% of the vote in the 2013 gubernatorial election, making him the most successful Libertarian Party candidate in Virginia history, spent only $220,000 on his entire campaign. (Terry McAuliffe spent $38 million.)

The movement to reform partisan gerrymandering of Virginia’s electoral districts has gained big momentum in recent years. Virginians who value increased competition in the political realm should support reform of ballot access as well.

No Simple Answers about Illegal Voting

Illegal voting does occur in Virginia. But it's not clear how much.

Yes, Virginia, illegal voting by non-citizens does occur here. The practice may be widespread…. or not. We don’t know for sure. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot.

President-elect Donald Trump blasted out another of his notorious tweets three days ago, claiming that he would have won a majority of votes in the 2016 election were it not for “serious voter fraud” in Virginia and other states. “Why isn’t the media reporting on this?” he asked. “Serious bias – big problem!”

National TV networks and other prestigious media outlets counter-attacked, describing the tweets as “baseless” and backed by “zero evidence.” NPR traced his “unfounded claim” to the conspiracy-minded Info Wars website and radio show, which used “flawed evidence” in reporting that three million people voted illegally. The sum total of the reporting has been to imply that not only is Trump’s claim without merit but that voting fraud occurs on such an insignificant scale as to be electorally meaningless.

Trump’s insistence that he would have won the popular vote had two million people not voted illegally is a huuuge stretch. However, the national media has not distinguished itself in debunking the charge. Pillars of the news establishment have abandoned any pretense of objectivity. Indeed, their unhinged reaction lends credence to Trump’s charge that they are guilty of serious bias.

The fact is, there is credible evidence that illegal voting does occur on a fairly large scale. Media pundits quoting other media pundits in an endless loop does not constitute proof otherwise.

The first body of evidence comes from Jesse T. Richman, Gulshan A. Chattha and David C. Earnest, professors at Old Dominion University and George Mason University. Writing in a 2014 edition of Electoral Studies, they drew upon data from an internet-based survey compiled as part of the 2008 and 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies. The survey sample was robust:  32,800 in 2008 and 54,00 in 2010. Unlike other voter surveys, this study did not filter out the responses of non-citizens.

Extrapolating from the survey results, the authors concluded that “the proportion of non-citizens who voted in 2008 was less than fifteen percent, but significantly greater than zero.” In 2010, “more than three percent of non-citizens reported voting.”

Given statistical margins of error and other uncertainties, there is no way to quantify an exact number of non-citizen voters. The authors give a range of between 33,000 nationally on the low end and 2.8 million on the high end. (I’m not certain where Trump got his data, but he might well have seized upon the authors’ high-end estimate. Using that number without stating the caveats and qualifiers might justly be characterized as reckless. But it is not “baseless.”)

Despite the uncertainties, Richman, Chattha and Earnest said that non-citizen votes could have influenced some electoral outcomes in 2008. For instance, presidential election results in North Carolina were so close that a mere 5.1% turnout of non-citizens could have given Barack Obama his 14,177-vote margin of victory. By contrast, Obama’s margin in Virginia was so wide that it would have required 85% of non-citizens voting — an improbably large percentage — to have handed him a victory.

A second body of evidence comes from a 2016 study by the Public Interest Legal Foundation. PILF documented — as in, it provided documentary evidence, not statistical inference — of 1,046 non-citizens registered to vote in Virginia who were subsequently removed from the voter rolls. The authors also documented that these non-citizens accounted for nearly 200 ballots cast.

The numbers sound negligible but they were based on responses from eight jurisdictions accounting for only 16% of the state’s population. Extrapolating statewide, the number of ballots cast could well have exceeded 1,200 and the number of improper registrations 6,000. Extrapolating nationally, we could be talking 50,000 votes and 240,000 registrations.

Admittedly, there are dangers in extrapolating those numbers. We don’t know how representative those eight Virginia jurisdictions are of national patterns. On the other hand, one can argue that these numbers under-represent the extent of illegal voting because they reflect only non-citizens who were identified and removed from voter rolls. The figures do not include non-citizens whose illegal registrations were never caught.

All studies of electoral fraud are based on imperfect data and assumptions that can be challenged. There is a fuzzy halo of uncertainty around any estimate. But it is patently wrong to say that there is “zero evidence” that wide-scale illegal voting is occurring.

Tweeting claims casually scooped up from the Internet does not project the gravitas we expect of our president-elect. But shrill denunciations emanating from national news organizations are no more credible. The truth is, illegal voting does occur but it’s impossible to pinpoint exactly how much. Unless Trump and the media do better, the public will learn to trust neither.

Update: Turns out that Jesse Richman has opined on this very question. His verdict: There is no way that non-citizen votes could account for Clinton’s winning margin in the popular vote. But his commentary suggests that he believes voting by non-citizens still occurs.

Voting Happenstance… Or Enemy Action?

Voting booths in Portsmouth. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

Voting booths in Portsmouth. Photo credit: Virginian-Pilot

My sister Mary Bacon walked into the Precinct 101 voting station at the St. James Armenian Church in Richmond around 7:45 a.m. today. She was working through her ballot when a woman in the voting booth next to her exclaimed, “Hey, half my ballot is filled out!”

The two-sided paper ballot, which had state and local races on the second page, had all the local races marked. The woman complained, the local electoral volunteers gave her a new ballot, and that was that. No one else voiced a similar problem while Mary was in the room, and no one got exercised about the incident.

Except Mary. “I was stunned,” she told me. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

She called the Richmond registrar’s office to lodge a complaint, or pursue whatever procedure would get the incident on record. The receptionist told her that there was nothing she could do. There were no mechanisms to file a complaint. The precinct manager would take care of it.

In all likelihood, the incident was a fluke. If you want to tamper with the election, you don’t do it by slipping filled-out ballots to voters who, like the woman in Precinct 101, would raise a hue and cry.

But who knows for sure? Mary didn’t think to ask which candidates were marked on the ballot. Given the intensity of the City of Richmond mayor’s race, it would be interesting to know which mayoral candidate had been pre-selected. If anyone was playing hanky-panky with the electoral process, that would be the first place I’d look.

If anyone else has witnessed something like this, let me know. As Auric Goldfinger told James Bond, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”

— JAB

Here’s One Easy Way to Clean Virginia Voter Rolls

... but only if you're a U.S. citizen.

… but only if you’re a U.S. citizen.

by James A. Bacon

Let’s pretend for a moment that Donald Trump did not create an uproar by claiming that the 2016 presidential elections are rigged. Let’s all take deep breaths, seek a meditative state of mind, and try to look dispassionately at the issue of voter fraud. Now let me advance a series of propositions.

First, we all can agree that only U.S. citizens should be allowed to vote in U.S. elections. A corollary to that proposition is that non-citizens should not be allowed to vote.

Second, we can agree that millions of non-citizens do live in the United States.

Third, we can agree that the National Voter Registration Act, which allows Americans to register while getting their drivers’ licenses, opened up a potential avenue for non-citizens to register illegally. Virginia requires no more proof from applicants than to check a box and affirm under penalty of perjury that they are citizens.

We do not know how often non-citizens register illegally, but the work of the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) has identified 1,046 non-citizens in eight localities who did so. Those non-citizens are known to have cast more than 200 ballots.

PILF’s numbers reflect only registrants who were caught in recent years: removed from voter rolls because someone had determined that they were not U.S. citizens. Most were identified by accident or chance, such as, for example, when someone claimed to be a citizen when receiving a driver’s license and later indicated he or she was not a citizen when renewing the license. The actual number of illegal voters in all 125 Virginia localities is likely much higher.

Fourth, whether the number is of sufficient size to skew election results or not, we can agree that registering illegally is, well… illegal. Furthermore, we can agree that local registrars, whose job is to uphold the integrity of the voting rolls, should institute formal procedures to remove non-citizens from the voting rolls — especially if the process is not onerously expensive and does not accidentally delete people who are qualified to vote.

Fifth — and here I know I’m going out on a limb — we can agree that every Virginia locality should periodically cross-reference its voting rolls with the federally administered Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database to detect ineligible alien registrants. If tools exist to keep voter rolls clean, then we should use them.

Yes, Virginia, There Is Voter Fraud

trumpby James A. Bacon

Donald Trump has dominated the news the past few days with charges that the election is “rigged” due to media bias and electoral fraud. His charges, which have been long on bluster and short on specifics, have inspired numerous rebuttals in the news media. The vast majority of commentary suggests that voter fraud is negligible — and certainly does not occur on a scale to affect election outcomes.

While media retorts tend to be more fact-based than Trump’s (whose motto could well be, “Proof? We don’t need no stinking proof!”), that doesn’t mean they tell the whole story. The rebuttal articles I have surveyed create an aura of verisimilitude by citing academic studies and quoting experts about the electoral process, but they ignore evidence that contradicts their views.

For instance, an essay by Philip Bump in the Washington Post this morning headlined, “Trump’s Claims about voter fraud are patently ridiculously,” omits mention of the recent report by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), “Alien Invasion in Virginia,” which uncovered evidence, naming names, of 1,046 non-citizens who were illegally registered to vote and had cast at least 200 ballots before being removed from voter rolls. (PILF had similar findings in Pennsylvania.)

The primary evidence that Bump cited was a study by Justin Levitt with the Loyola Law School who traced years’ worth of votes and found “only a few sporadic instances of possible — but not certain fraud. Specifically: 31 incidents out of 1 billion cast votes.” Wrote Bump: “There’s simply no credible evidence that in-person voter fraud happens with any regularity, much less at a scale that could affect a national race.” (My italics.)

Note the qualifier. No credible evidence of in-person voter fraud. Levitt focused on instances in which people showed up at the polls and voted using a false identity — a particular species of fraud targeted by Republican-initiated Voter ID laws. Levitt’s research found that that particular type of fraud was nearly non-existent. But it did not rule out other categories of voter fraud. As Levitt noted in a 2014 Washington Post piece:

These allegations do not include other forms of fraud … including absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, vote coercion, fraud in the tallying process, voter registration fraud, double voting, voting by noncitizens, voting by persons disenfranchised by conviction, or fraud in the petitioning process.

The commentators citing Levitt’s study to discredit Trump’s charges never mention that expansive caveat.

The Trump busters also cite the paucity of prosecutions as evidence that voter fraud is negligible. If fraud were widespread, they say, surely there would be evidence of it in the record of prosecutions and convictions. But that argument ignores the possibility that prosecutors may have no interest in tracking down voter fraud. As the PILF report demonstrated, registration among non-citizens in Virginia is endemic and hundreds of ballots were cast illegally, and that’s just based upon a sample of eight of Virginia’s 125 localities. These are not isolated instances — they are systemic, based upon the way the National Voter Registration Act is administered and enforced (or not enforced) across the state and probably the nation. Remarkably, PILF found no evidence that a single illegally registered voter uncovered in its Virginia investigation had been prosecuted.

PILF’s Noel J. Johnson said in testimony submitted last week to the House Privileges and Elections Committee:

Alexandria provided a list of 70 non-citizens who had been removed from their voter rolls in recent years. Each one of these registrants likely committed a felony when they registered to vote. Yet we received no records showing that any of these individuals had been referred to law enforcement for investigation or prosecution. …

Why have Virginia election officials not pursued criminal prosecutions of aliens registering and voting? …

Why has not a single instance of non-citizen registration and voting been prosecuted in Virginia that we could find?

The committee hearing turned into a bitter partisan fight as Republican lawmakers called for removal of Edgardo Cortes, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, and Democrats accused Republicans of following Trump’s lead of casting doubt on the legitimacy of the upcoming election. (See the Richmond Times-Dispatch coverage here.)

Here’s what I have yet to see — a single mainstream media article about the PILF report. As a former member of mainstream media myself, I don’t believe in media conspiracies. But I can understand why the Trumpkins do. The media’s lack of interest in the allegations detailed by PILF is as astonishing as the allegations themselves. How can the media be so uninterested in charges that, at least on the face of it, seem well documented and go to the heart of our democratic process? Surely such accusations should be aired publicly and subjected to critical analysis. Ironically, the fact that the report is swept under the rug will only feed the conspiracy-mongering of Trump and his minions.

If Trump succeeds in undermining the legitimacy of the 2016 election, which he undoubtedly will lose, he will have had plenty of help from his antagonists in the media. Instapundit blogger Glenn Reynolds has popularized the phrase, “Think of [members of the press] as Democratic operatives with bylines and you won’t go far wrong.” At least half the population would agree.

Update: I just watched Chris Hayes on MSNBC citing Levitt’s figure of 31 incidents out of 1 billion votes as if it were representative of all forms of voting fraud. I wonder if Levitt takes issue with the way his study is being misconstrued in the press.

Update: I managed to contact Levitt, who is on leave from the Loyola Law School and now works for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, he says he cannot comment on any topic not directly related to his DOJ work. “In the course of the year,”he writes, “I’ve seen my work (including but not limited to the piece you mentioned) cited quite a bit — some accurately, some not, some criticism, and some praise — but I’ve had to let the work itself do all of the talking on my behalf. ”

Update: Peter Galuszka takes issue with my statement that not a single mainstream media outlet has mentioned the PILF report. He wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post’sAll Opinions Are Local” feature that minimized the significance of the report as the product of “two right-wing groups” that “hounded” registrars for data and uncovered some sloppiness in record keeping. “Even if all 1,046 cases the groups claim are valid,” he concluded, “they do not make their point, given that more than 2 million Virginians tend to vote in elections. That’s hardly massive voting fraud.”

Think Elections Are Rigged? Here’s One Way to Make the System Fairer

by Brian Cannon

“Rigged” is the word of the election season. Donald Trump said this week that the debate was rigged. Bernie Sanders supporters used the term to describe the party’s control of the primary process. The meme is resonating with voters, too. Here at One Virginia 2021, we’ve taken notice as well: Our new documentary film produced by WCVE on gerrymandering is called GerryRIGGED.*

People have the sense that the fix is in. Politics feels like a broken system run by people who get rich inside their “public service” and enjoy an unbelievable re-election rate. What do we mean by this re-election rate? Consider, all 435 voting seats are up for re-election in the U.S. House of Representatives. Cook Political Report says that only 37 are competitive!  That’s embarrassing.

Last November, when all 140 seats in Virginia’s General Assembly were up, 122 of the members chose to run for re-election.  All 122 were re-elected.

In November of 2014, when Sen. Mark Warner and Ed Gillespie were running neck and neck in a U.S. Senate race in which the candidates were separated by less than 1% of the vote, all congressional seats in Virginia were also up for re-election.  In not one of those congressional races did a challenger come within 15%.

I hate to be so disheartening as to say the system is rigged, but it sure does appear that way for incumbent politicians.

So can we fix it?  In 2011, college students competed in map drawing exercise put on by the Wason Center for Public Policy with the same software the politicians use to gerrymander. Only the college students were using good government criteria such as:

– keeping localities together, not carving up neighborhoods;
– respecting communities of interest;
– drawing districts that pass compactness measurements and also the eye test; and importantly
– not drawing districts to benefit one party or politician.

It’s not rocket science, just good government.

The result?  The student maps were better. In each individual category and in even pairs of good government categories, the student maps were superior to the political maps. The average number of competitive districts in the Virginia Senate drawn by politicians was 6.89 seats out of 40. The average for the students was 9.67. For the House of Delegates, the politicians averaged 24 competitive seats and the students averaged 26.5 competitive seats, with one winning map having 31 competitive seats. Incidentally, “competitive” refers to races that could be as far apart as 55% to 45%. Competition is so hard to come by, the window has to be wide.

For more on the competition’s results and a wonderful read on the history of Virginia gerrymandering, please see Altman and McDonald’s article in the University of Richmond Law Review.

We can do this better, folks. States as politically and geographically diverse as Iowa, Ohio, Arizona, and Washington have all figured this out.  Good Virginians on both sides of the aisle are pushing for reform in both chambers of the General Assembly. Perhaps the the concern about “rigged” elections will embolden more people to step forward and call for electoral reform.

* Merriam-Webster does an excellent job of reporting on the opaque origins of the term “rig” as a verb meaning “to manipulate or control usually by deceptive or dishonest means.”