No suspense in legislative races

Published 10:11 am Friday, July 12, 2013

Nov. 5 is supposed be a spirited election in Virginia for reasons beyond the always-interesting selection of a new governor.

At least that’s the way the commonwealth’s framers intended it by requiring that members of the House of Delegates be elected every two years.

Rather, General Assembly elections will be a non-event this fall in Hampton Roads and many other areas of Virginia thanks to the hopeless – and perhaps irreversible – politicization of redistricting, whose practitioners strategically draw election boundaries to ensure partisan outcomes.

The result is this: All of the incumbents who represent Western Tidewater in the House of Delegates will be re-elected this fall without opposition. In all of Hampton Roads, only four of 16 House seats will be competitive on the Nov. 5 ballot.

So much for the “people’s House,” which framers envisioned the House of Delegates to be.

Incumbents’ cakewalk to re-election speaks less about their universal appeal to voters than to the reality of the political and demographic math: No member of the opposition party stands a snowball’s chance of unseating them.

A Republican, no matter how competent and capable, would waste time and money challenging Delegate Roslyn Tyler in the reliably Democratic 75th District. Same goes for a Democrat in Rick Morris’ 64th District.

It would be tempting to blame this noncompetitiveness on Republicans, the party in power at the moment in Richmond.

However, extreme gerrymandering has been facilitated by Democrats and their insistence on so-called “majority-minority” districts. In guaranteeing the election of a certain number of black lawmakers by packing black voters into a handful of legislative districts, legislators make other districts less competitive.

It will be interesting to see the effect of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the “preclearance” provision of the federal Voting Rights Act. Virginia and other states will no longer have to get the Justice Department’s blessing of redistricting plans.

The 50-year effort, perhaps noble at its origin, to ensure the election of black lawmakers at all levels of government has helped zap our democracy of competitive elections.

Most Virginians now go to the polls and cast ballots for city council, Board of Supervisors, General Assembly and congressional candidates in elections where outcomes were pre-ordained.

Yet our leaders wonder why voter turnout is low in non-presidential elections and why more good candidates don’t run for office.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News and the  Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is