Category Archives: Electoral process

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.”

Hundreds of Virginia Voters Were Registered Illegally, Public Interest Group Charges

registration_formby James A. Bacon

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) claims to have documented 1,046 non-citizens who were illegally registered to vote in eight Virginia jurisdictions. Nearly 200 ballots were cast before they could be removed from the rolls, declares the Foundation in a new study, “Alien Invasion in Virginia: The Discovery and Coverup of Noncitizen Registration and Voting.

“The problem is most certainly exponentially worse because we have no data regarding aliens on the registration rolls for the other 125 Virginia localities,” states the executive summary. “Because no formal programs exist in Virginia to identify noncitizen registrants, the discovery and removal of these non-citizens is either by accident or because the registrant later indicated to election officials that he or she was not a citizen.”

The findings were based upon data culled from the following jurisdictions: Prince William County, Loudoun, Stafford, Bedford, Hanover and Roanoke counties, and the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax.

Almost as disturbing as the raw numbers is the lack of cooperation extended to PILF and the Virginia Voters Alliance by local registrars and the state board of elections. States the report:

Virginia state election officials are obstructing access to public records that reveal the extent to which non-citizens are participating in our elections. These obstructionist tactics have led to PILF and VVA obtaining data from only a handful of Virginia counties so far. But the information from a few counties demonstrates a massive problem.

PILF describes itself as a “public interest law firm dedicated entirely to election integrity. The Foundation exists to assist states and others to aid the cause of election integrity and fight against lawlessness in American elections. Drawing on numerous experts in the field, the Foundation seeks to protect the right to vote and preserve the Constitutional framework of American elections.”

The so-called “Motor Voter” law enacted in 1993 requires each state to offer voter registration to anyone who applies for a driver’s license. Attempts by states to require registrants to provide documentary proof of citizenship have been thwarted by left-leaning voter groups and the Department of Justice. Virginia requires applicants to do no more than check a box, under penalty of perjury, affirming that they are citizens.

PILF contends that local registrars failed to provide the organization with documents and records required under the 1993 federal law to be made available to the public. Ultimately, that lack of cooperation was traced to the Virginia Department of Elections and its commissioner Edgardo Cortes, according to the report. “Over the course of August and September 2016, responses from election officials rolled in, each one explaining that state election officials had instructed them not to provide lists of non-citizens who had been removed from Virginia’s voter rolls.”

PILF could find no record that anyone who had registered and voted illegally had been prosecuted for fraud.

Bacon’s bottom line: The implications of this report are so earth-shaking — remember that Attorney General Mark Herring defeated Mark Obenshain by only 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast — that even a somnambulant mainstream media cannot ignore it.

Before getting all agitated, though, I would like to see the findings confirmed by credible third parties. I know nothing about PILF and its reputation for fairly presenting the facts. But the allegations cannot be dismissed lightly. The report reproduces 84 exhibits of registration forms that were canceled on the grounds that the individual was a non-citizen. And the findings follow on the heels of allegations that a James Madison University student submitted 20 voter applications under the names of deceased individuals.

If the charges are proven to be true, this is a scandal of massive proportions and heads should roll.

(Editor’s note: My apologies if I’m the last person in Virginia to blog about this story. I’ve been really distracted the past few days, this report just came to my attention, and I hadn’t seen it touted in any local blog or news source yet.)

Update: Former Bacon’s Rebellion contributor Peter Galuszka addresses the issue in the Washington PostAll Opinions Are Local” blog. His bottom line: “Even if all 1,046 cases the groups claim are valid, they do not make their point, given that more than 2 million Virginians tend to vote in elections. That’s hardly massive voting fraud.”

Update to the Update: PILF’s Christian Adams responds in PJMedia to Peter’s piece, charging that it is full of errors. He concludes, “The Virginia legislature is convening a hearing next week about recent reports of failures by state officials to take the threat seriously. And meanwhile the instruments of the old media line up to give cover to criminality in our elections.”

You Thought Hanging Chads Were Bad?

hanging_chadsLatest news from Yahoo News: “The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems.”

To my surprise, Henrico County, which switched to electronic voting a couple of years ago, back-tracked in the last primary. Good move. I really don’t want Vladimir Putin, Hu Jintao or, god forbid, Kim Jung Un, deciding our next president.


E-voting—An Idea Whose Implementation is Overdue

coverA selection from “The Fourth Branch of Government: We the People,” by Jack Trammell, PhD and Guy Terrell, PMP. Brandylane Publishers, Inc. Scheduled for release, Summer 2016.

There’s no reason to have a plan B because it distracts from plan A.
—Will Smith

When our first Congress met, we carried exports in the holds of wooden sailing vessels. We plowed our fields with oxen and other animals. We rode horses or drove horse-drawn carriages or carts between towns and farms, to market, and to voting locations. Representatives and senators held the first sessions of Congress in Federal Hall in New York City, where they met face-to-face just as they do now. But now our nation in the twenty-first century operates electronically and with more efficiency and effectiveness because of the tools that even school children have available—smart phones, computers, and tablets. Our democracy must be adapted to utilize these kinds of electronic tools to enable better governance and more inclusive voting. We must integrate today’s electronic tools with our constitutional voting process. Enabling e-voting for elections using technology to manage registration and election results is the first step.

If John Adams or Thomas Jefferson could revisit us today, they would praise all of the technological and efficiency-oriented advances (telephone, television, Internet, and other communications) used in commerce, education, and government operations. Suppose they could sit in the galleries in the House of Representatives today. The process of making laws is similar to what they experienced. They would feel at home and see that the Constitution operates as they intended.

There were about four million inhabitants of the United States in 1790. Now we have over 325 million citizens, or about eighty-five times greater population. And since women and African Americans could not vote then, the number of eligible voters is more than 160 times greater than in 1790. Additionally, since a much higher portion of the population were presumably children (under voting age), then the number of voters today could be closer to two hundred times larger. How can we continue to manually tally votes and set up an adequate number of polling locations to accommodate an ever-expanding modern democracy? We will fall short in our attempt to maintain our republic if we keep doing it this way when we know the technology is sorely out of date.

We need to re-examine how we vote, realizing that the introduction of e-voting touches on the core of the electoral process—casting and counting votes. If we want to utilize e-voting, we will need to modify the Constitution to allow e-voting. Currently states have the right to control elections. Does this still make sense? Our Constitution handled elections with the tools available in the eighteenth century. Therefore states were responsible for setting up and tallying elections mainly because the federal government had no mechanism for doing that. We are the tenants and caretakers of our republic, our democracy. Adams, Jefferson, and all the other founders never envisioned the availability of the tools we have now. Elections should be handled at the national level in a uniform, fair, and accessible manner.

I shall not die without a hope that light and liberty are on steady advance.
–Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, 1821

The Voting Patchwork

The Constitution bestows on states the right and responsibility for holding elections for senators and representatives. Article 1 Section 4 of the Constitution, called the “Elections Clause,” describes the primacy of states in the voting process. “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.” Over the years, this procedure produced a patchwork of voting methods. Historically, some localities tried to restrict voting to some groups even after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment that prohibits the denial of the right to vote based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

As businesses mature, they standardize their processes in order to maintain efficiency. Businesses as they grow move from ad hoc processes and procedures to formally defined, repeatable steps in their operations. For example, when a president leaves office, the Secret Service has a set of protocols to follow to set up the security for the former president’s new residence and his family. Each transition gets handled in the same way every time. That’s what e-voting would do. Wherever a person lives in the nation, they would see the same procedures over and over again when voting. If an improvement is made, it will be reflected at every polling precinct or, if e-voting is implemented, across every device.

The protection and expansion of voting rights has been, and continues to be, a strong thread throughout our nation’s history. We have a duty to maintain the ability of citizens to be able to vote. Putting voting rights in the hands of a federal agency and providing consistent, accessible e-voting could close the chapter on this issue once and for all. Anyone who qualifies and wishes to vote could have that access consistently and without artificial barriers. The patchwork of state laws could be rescinded. When you move your residence, you must register in your new location by a certain date to be able to vote. E-voting administered at the national level would only require that you update your residence by logging into your account, the way you already do for your bank, your driver’s license, and so many other things. To move to e-voting would require changing the Constitution, passing other laws in Congress to regulate how states conduct elections, and making changes to state constitutions and laws. Continue reading

Where Blacks Are Most Politically Engaged

Source: WalletHub

Virginia ranks 22nd among the 50 states in political engagement, as determined by WalletHub on the basis of voting turnout, registration rates, and elected representation.


A Book Review for an Election Year

Along with income inequality, one of the most-discussed issues in the Presidential election year is the role of money in political campaigns.  Following the Roberts Court’s ruling in the Citizens United Case, which basically equated money with free speech, large numbers of Political Action Committees masquerading as charities, such as the Americans for Progress, were supported by wealthy donors to funnel money to selected candidates.  These so-called super-PACs could raise unlimited amounts as long as they were not “coordinated” with the candidate’s campaign.  This process and it after-math are the heart of Jane Mayer’s new book, “Dark Money.”

According to the book, Ed Gillespie, currently the front-runner for the Republican nomination for Governor of Virginia, was one of the first political operatives to realize the potential surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision, and began to organize attacks on regulation having to do with environmental protection and tax policy.

The perception that business is under attack and a response must be begun dates back to the early 1970’s.  Lewis Powell, a Richmond lawyer who served as a distinguished member of the Supreme Court, outlined a type of response that included an organized to roll back regulations and other government policies that, he perceived, were undermining the American private Enterprise System. (see reclaim Powell served on many corporate boards including tobacco giant Phillip Morris.  His ideas were taken up by several individuals of significant wealth.

The book indicates that those who found the dark side of American politics are mindful in operations that have significant impact on the environment.

The Olin Corporation is an example.  Olin was a significant polluter.  It was the largest manufacturer of DDT, which was eventual banned by the government in 1972.  In the town of Saltville, Va., Olin’s Chlorine production spilled significant amount of mercury into the Holston River.  The company ceased operations shortly after it was reported from Japan that large exposure to mercury in water caused birth defects.  Members of the Olin family are significant contributors to conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute

The most significant of the “dirty money” fraternity are the Koch brothers (No relation to former mayor of NY Ed Koch).  Their oil refining and pipeline business if one of the largest privately-held pipeline companies in the United States.  The family has a very interesting history. Earlier generations did business with both Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Family members were members of the John Birch Society. This is the same group that believed that President Eisenhower was a Communist.

In her research, Jane Mayer discusses many legal problems that Koch industries has had under the current leadership of Davis and Charles Koch, some involving outright theft of oil from Native Americans’ reservations, significant instances of pollution. One particularly disturbing case involved the death of an employee named Donald Carson who died of Leukemia in 1997.  Doctors believe that his cancer was the result of exposure to benzene, a chemical involved in refining crude oil. The Kochs refused to pay him Workmen’s Compensation even though a company-sponsored blood test indicated five years before his death that his blood was poisoned. The employee was subsequently terminated from the company.  Charles Koch believes that government regulations are “socialistic.” Employees within the company that brought up potential health issues to OSHA were fired. In one case, involving a pipeline explosion, resulting in the death of an employee, a jury found that the Koch’s not only negligent but malicious, ordering them to pay a settlement three times the hundred million Dollars that was originally requested.

Ms. Mayer does acknowledge that the Koch Brothers have given significantly to “real charities” such as Lincoln Center in New York and several medical research institutes. According to the author, these contributions served to soften their image and make their political activities seem less threatening and less self-serving.

Following the plan, laid out many years ago by Lewis Powell, American Universities are the fountainhead of anti-business attitudes in the United States. The theories of the Austrian school of economics was believed to provide an intellectual basis for the type of free-for-all capitalism advocated by the Koch brothers.  In 1981, the Mercatus Center was established at the George Mason University in George Mason University.  The Center claimed that it “bridged the gap between academic ideas and real world problems.”  Records obtained by Jane Myer indicate that the brothers have contributed $30 million to the Institute. One historian on the faculty describes the institute as a “lobbying group for corporate interests.”

Whether you agree with the author,  Jane Mayer, the current rise of “outsider politicians” in both parties shows that much of the public perceives that the system is rigged in favor of the ultra wealthy.

— D. Leslie Schreiber

Another Shot at Redistricting

Current Virginia congressional boundaries

Current Virginia congressional boundaries. Source: VPAP

by James A. Bacon

So, the General Assembly is under the gun to redraw the boundaries of Virginia’s congressional districts, which most disinterested observers would agree are a travesty of democracy and desperately in need of a fix. While Republicans and Democrats justify their positions with lofty principles, few voters are under any illusion that either party is interested in anything other than advancing its own electoral prospects.

Look at the map above of the boundaries of the current congressional districts. The packing of African-Americans into the oddly shaped district stretching from east Richmond through the Virginia Peninsula to Norfolk stands out. A federal court declared that gerrymandering to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it dilutes the impact of African-American voting in other districts. The district must go. But that means redrawing the entire map.

What might the new districts look like? So far, Republicans have yet to present a plan of their own. But two Democrats have. Here, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, is what the congressional districts would look like under the plan submitted by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton:

The Locke plan. Source: VPAP

The Locke plan. Source: VPAP

And here’s the plan submitted by Sen. Chap Peterson, D-Fairfax:

The Peterson plan. Source: VPAP

The Peterson plan. Source: VPAP

Both Democratic plans would concentrate Republicans into districts deemed by VPAP to be “much more Republican,” while creating other districts deemed merely “more Democratic.” What we can’t tell from the VPAP data is which districts, after the dust settles, will end up dominated by Republicans, which will be dominated by Democrats, and which will be competitive.

Of the two, the Peterson map is the more elegant, creating more compact communities with fewer squiggly lines. That holds out the hope of creating more competitive districts rather than more reliably Democratic and Republican districts where the real contests are in the nominating fights dominated by hard-line party partisans. Competition is good for democracy, we need more of it, and a superficial look at the Peterson map suggests that his plan just might deliver it.

The Ironies of Virginia's Growing Diversity

Midlothian’s New Grand Mart taps state’s growing diversity

 By Peter Galuszka

Suddenly immigration is popping up as a major issue in Virginia and the nation.

Virginia Beach has been dubbed a “sanctuary city” for undocumented aliens by Fox News and conservative Websites. GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump is scarfing up poll number hikes by calling Mexicans trying to enter the U.S. illegally “rapists” and proposing an expensive new wall project to block off the southern border. Pro-Confederate flag advocates are pushing back against anti-flag moves, but they can’t escape the reality they are conjuring up  old visions of white supremacy, not their version of respectable Southern “heritage.”

So, if you’d like to look at it, here’s a piece I wrote for The Washington Post in today’s newspaper. When I visited a new, international food store called New Grand Mart in Midlothian near Richmond, I was impressed by how large it was and how many people from diverse backgrounds were there.

Looking further, I found one study noting that Virginia is drawing new groups of higher-income residents of Asian and Hispanic descent. In the suburbs, African-Americans are doing well, too.

The Center for Opportunity Urbanism ranked 52 cities as offering the best opportunities for diverse groups. One might assume D.C. and Northern Virginia would rank well, and they do. More surprising was that Richmond and Virginia Beach rank in the top 10 in such areas as income and home ownership. True, mostly black inner city Richmond has a 26 percent poverty rate but it seems to be a different story elsewhere.

Stephen Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington says that economic prosperity and jobs that had been concentrated in the D.C. area, much of it federal, has been spread elsewhere throughout the state. It may not be a coincidence that New Grand Mart was started in Northern Virginia by Korean-Americans who undertook research. It revealed that the Richmond area was a rich diversity market waiting to be tapped. They were impressed and expanded there.

Other areas that do well in the study are Atlanta, Raleigh, N.C. and ones in Texas, which show a trend of job creation in the South and Southwest outpacing economic centers in the Northeast, Midwest and in parts of the West. Another story in today’s Post shows that there are more mostly-black classrooms in Northern cities than in the South. The piece balances out the intense reevaluation of Southern history now underway. A lot of the bad stuff seems to have ended long ago, but somehow similar attitudes remain in cities like Detroit and New York.

This progress is indeed interesting since old-fashioned American xenophobia is rearing itself again.

In Virginia, the long-term political impact will be profound as newer groups prosper. They may not be as inclined as whites to embrace Virginia’s peculiar brand of exceptionalism, such as their emotional mythology of Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jefferson. Their interest in them might be more dispassionately historical.

And, as the numbers of wealthier people from diverse backgrounds grow, they may be less willing to keep their heads down when faced with immigrant bashing. That’s what people of Hispanic descent did in 2007 and 2008 when Prince Williams County went through an ugly phase of crackdowns on supposed illegals. They could strike back with their own political campaigns.

Whether they will be blue or red remains to be seen. It’s not a given that they’d be Democratic-leaning. Farnsworth notes, however, that as more diverse people move to metropolitan suburbs, whites in more rural, lower-income places may become more reactionary out of fear. Hard-working and better-educated newcomers might be out-classing them in job hunts, so they might vote for politicians warning of a yellow or brown peril.

In any case, New Grand Mart presages a very crucial and positive trend in Virginia. It shows the irony of the hard right echo chamber peddling stories designed to inflame hatred and racism, such as the one about Virginia Beach being a “sanctuary” for illegals. In fact, the city is attracting exactly the  well-educated and hard-working newcomers of diverse backgrounds upon whom it can rest its future.

But we’re in an age of bloated billionaires with helmet hairdos and no military experience claiming that former Republican presidential candidate John McCain, a shot-down Navy pilot who spent five years in a brutal North Vietnamese prison, is not a hero. If Virginia can ignore such time-wasters and embrace diversity, it will be a better place.