Virginia’s aggressive gerrymandering means voters can have Republican rule or nothing

I will get to choose between total Republican dominance of my home state or gridlock.

Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tom Perriello (front) and Ralph Northam. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber
Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidates Tom Perriello (front) and Ralph Northam. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber

This morning, I woke up, showered, walked my dog, then drove to the local high school to vote in Virginia’s primary election. Hopefully, I will get to vote for the same candidate I voted for today in November’s general election.

But there’s one thing I won’t be able to vote for this election cycle — a government that is actually capable of implementing policies favored by the Democratic Party. Thanks in large part to aggressive gerrymandering in the Virginia House of Delegates, I will get to choose between total Republican dominance of my home state or gridlock.

Virginia is an increasingly blue state. Hillary Clinton won the state by over five points. President Obama won it twice. The current governor, Terry McAuliffe, is a former chair of the Democratic National Committee. Both Democratic candidates in today’s primary — former Rep. Tom Perriello and Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam — are strongly favored over their likely Republican opponent in the general election.

Yet the GOP holds 66 seats in the state’s 100 seat House of Delegates. In 2013, the same year that Democrats swept all three of Virginia’s statewide offices, the GOP won 67 seats in the state house.

What this means is that, if a Republican wins this November’s gubernatorial race, that Republican is highly likely to have a GOP state house and senate that will enact the full Republican agenda. Voter suppression, draconian budgets, pro-discrimination laws dressed up as “religious liberty” and similar legislation are all likely to follow.

If you want to know what this looks like, take a look at North Carolina. Or Louisiana. Or Kansas. Or Texas.

Meanwhile, if Perriello or Northam win, it will be nearly impossible for Virginia’s voters to elect a Democratic House of Delegates — even if a majority of those voters cast a ballot for a Democratic candidate. That means that major Democratic priorities like expanding Medicaid, protecting voting rights, reducing gun violence, and environmental protection will almost certainly receive no support from the state legislature.

Republicans can go to the polls dreaming of the kind of state governance that they most desire. Democrats can only hope to ward off an outcome that they hate. That not only gives Republicans a serious advantage in the policy sphere, it also is likely to demoralize Democrats on Election Day — potentially swinging the result.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that voting in the Virginia gubernatorial election is futile. At the federal level, the difference between the Obama administration and the Trump administration is immense, even if Obama spent most of his time in office with a Republican House of Representatives. The difference between a fully-empowered Republican governor and a weakened Democrat would be equally significant.

The next governor of Virginia, moreover, will sit during the next redistricting cycle — so they will have the power to veto a bill that tries to entrench gerrymandering in the House of Delegates even further.

But, barring an utter landslide, there’s one thing that isn’t on the ballot this November — a fair choice between Democrats and Republicans.