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Gerrymandering, voter suppression rules face tough time in courts

Virginia has produced some of the finest statesmen America has ever known, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Mason. They held a firm belief in rights of the citizens to choose their own government.

However, Virginia has always had a tough time living up to that philosophy. At one point the Commonwealth had one of the lowest voter participation rates in the nation. Mind you, things have changed a lot since then, but that tendency to try and keep the average voter away from the polls is still there. It’s almost, as if deep down, our elected officials really don’t trust us that much.

If they did, why would our General Assembly still be drawing districts to assure that the outcome is almost guaranteed? During the last state election there were only eight seats in the House of Delegates that were considered competitive and just six in the state senate. Over 50 members of the House got in without opposition. This meant that roughly 10 percent of the population had a serious choice to make. Everyone else, if they didn’t have an interesting local election, might as well have stayed home. Many did.

However, this hasn’t gone unchallenged. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision to change the boundaries of a predominantly African-American Congressional district. The claim, which the court supported, was that African-American voters were bundled into one spider-like district (the district map was a sight to behold) in order to limit their impact on other districts. As the result Virginia has adopted a new district map drawn by the court. It wasn’t a proud moment for the Commonwealth.

There is another lawsuit pending, this time regarding General Assembly seats that makes the same claim about bundling African-American voters, just that in this case, it’s at House of Delegates level. This suit didn’t fare as well in the lower courts so it’s hard to tell whether the U.S. Supreme Court will be willing to overturn a lower court decision or not.

But this distrust of the voters goes well beyond creative district drawing.  Consider the timing of our elections. They’re in odd years when there are no national offices on the ballot. We’re one of only two states that do that. The whole idea is to keep the turnout low. Voters turn out in Presidential and for Congressional elections, but not so much in odd years. It’s not uncommon going to door to door to find that voters have no idea there is even an election going on.  

However, when it comes to the business of voter suppression, that’s another matter that has engaged the court. The General Assembly tried to enact some rather ridiculous rules making it harder to vote this year, but thankfully, they were vetoed by the governor. One would have made it difficult for military personnel, stationed overseas, to vote. What were they thinking? However, other states managed to enact such rules, and a few days ago saw their legislation overturned by the Supreme Court.  Hopefully, the General Assembly took note.

The General Assembly, at least the GOP majority, tends to buy into the narrative that voting in Virginia is rife with fraud. It’s irrational, but it’s their story and they’re sticking to it. Our registrars go to great lengths to guarantee clean elections and they do a good job at it. The reality is that the authors of these restrictive or intimidating voting rules want to make it harder for the elderly, low income people, and minorities to vote. Fortunately, the Supreme Court, with its recent decision, might have put a lid on this behavior for a while.

In the long term, Virginia, hopefully, might grow tired of these battles. They just don’t seem to stop, the state spends a lot of time in court, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars, and our reputation suffers with each snippet of coverage. It might prove easier, in the long run, to embrace a more competitive and fair-minded approach to drawing districts and managing our electoral process.

David S. Kerr     

When is the violence going to end?

When did it start and when is it going to end?

That’s a persistent question when it comes to the unprecedented level of

domestic and international violence. In just the past few weeks, gunmen,

either under the banner of Islamic terrorism or anti­police, not to

mention the shootings of young black men, have become the norm. In

fact, it’s become so normal and so injected itself in our consciousness

that it’s hard to tell when it began.

The fact is though. There really isn’t a starting point. Mass killings have

been around a long time, but never have they occurred with such ferocity

and frequency. In April 2007 the largest mass shooting in American

history, at least up until that time, took place on the campus Virginia

Tech. It was terrible and rocked the nation. One of the major

newscasters, usually given to a cheerful sign off, closed his broadcast

with “today has not been a good day.”

The shooting at Virginia Tech was the result of one deranged student.

Much like the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., a few years

later which killed 12. There was no political or social cause that

motivated the shooter. That kind of killing was yet to come. One of the

first was the Boston Marathon Bombing and while not a shooting, it

nonetheless hearkened what was to come.

We had suffered through 9/11, but had been spared, for the most part,

the gunman style of terrorism. However, that’s rapidly changing. ISIS,

the principle player in the world of Islamic terrorism has turned to a

campaign of radicalizing overseas followers to strike at the homeland of

their enemies. You might call them lone wolves and they’re more of

them than anyone ever realized.

Most terrorist operations take planning and time, or at least they used to.

ISIS’s home grown killers, no visas or passports required, seem to be

able to plan and execute operations on their own. The killing of 84

persons in a Bastille Day celebration in Nice could well have been the

work of one man. The Orlando killings, which outdid the Tech shootings

when it came to the number of dead was all at the hands of another lone

wolf.

This list of dead could go on. But, now we have police killings. Just

three weeks ago five Dallas police officers were killed and just as the

last of them were being laid to rest, three Baton Rouge Police officers

were murdered. As for the acts that at least indirectly set off these horrid

attacks on police, the shooting of young black men by law enforcement

officers, this sort of abuse hasn’t slowed down either.

But, enough recalling this killing or that. What we should really be

worried about is that this kind of behavior is becoming the “new

normal.” We hear about these shootings, they make the news, sometimes

more than one a week, we shake our heads, maybe go to a vigil, maybe

not and move on. It’s amazing how fast some of these terrible acts fade

from national news coverage. In fact, it’s probable that if the average

American were shown a list of domestic shootings and along with ISIS

attacks on our allies, they might be shocked. “That many! I had no

idea.” Our brains, just trying to spare ourselves the pain, simply can’t

process it all.

If there is one plea and one message to this column it’s that we can’t let

this kind of violence become the “new normal” for the United States.

The answers are many. Putting away the guns is a good start. Many of

these murders were carried out using AR­15’s. Just saying. And then

there is understanding. Respect our police. They’re our neighbors for

gosh sakes. The same is true for the young black men killed for doing

nothing except being black and being in the wrong place. Everyone

needs to start behaving and talking. Engagement on all sides needs to

start now.

As for the Islamic terrorists, all that comes to mind is more vigilance,

continuing development of our intelligence networks and working closer

with the Islamic community here at home to find these potential

terrorists before an atrocity is committed. That’s hard, but it’s a start.

Most of all, please, let’s cool down the rhetoric. No more shouting about

registering every Muslim, or praising police killers as martyrs, or calling

the other side, as one candidate did, supporters of terrorism. When of

course they aren’t. That doesn’t help anyone. We’re Americans for gosh

sakes, we can do just about anything when we work together. We’ve

proven that. Now it’s time for all of us to say no to this culture of

violence before it’s accepted as a way of life.

We’re changing to cover our community better

You may have noticed a few changes in The Journal recently.
You should be noticing some more soon.

Read more: We’re changing to cover our community better

Economic changes - vision by Ruby Brabo

Exciting times ahead

Read more: Economic changes - vision by Ruby Brabo

Kaine hopeful new Congressional session can lead to bi-partisanship

As a freshman senator, I came to Congress in 2013 as the new guy in town and was unsure of what to expect.
Two years later, I’m proud of the work I’ve done for Virginia and eager to keep working across the aisle to tackle our nation’s challenges.

Read more: Kaine hopeful new Congressional session can lead to bi-partisanship

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