Gerrymandering Their Way To Victory

Image of Virginia’s Congressional districts from Wikipedia

As most people know, Hillary Clinton won a plurality of the vote in the state of Virginia and thus her electors were awarded all 13 of Virginia’s electoral votes.  Well, as you might imagine, some Republicans weren’t particularly happy with this result.  To correct this “error”, Senator Amanda Chase (R-11) has crafted a bill (SB 837) as has Delegate Mark Cole (R-88) (HB 1425) for the 2017 General Assembly Session.  Both bills would award 11 of Virginia’s electoral votes based on the popular vote winner of each congressional district while the remaining 2 would go to highest overall vote-getter as it is presently done.

If this system were in place in 2016, it would have radically altered the outcome in Virginia.  Instead of Hillary Clinton winning all of Virginia’s votes, instead she would be awarded 5 for winning 5 congressional districts (3, 4, 8, 10, 11) and 2 more for getting the highest statewide vote total while Donald Trump would win 6 for congressional districts (1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9).

Friends, it is my sincere hope that both of these bills will be defeated.  Although some Republicans will cheer this idea because it would have helped them in the most recent election, in the long run, it only serves to aid whichever political party who controls the General Assembly and marginalize a tremendous number of Virginia voters.

First, consider the 6th district, the district where I live.  In this election, Donald Trump won 59.32% of the vote in the 6th district.  120,596 people here cast their votes for Hillary Clinton, 10,801 voted for Gary Johnson, 2,379 chose Jill Stein, 5,421 picked Evan McMullin, and 2,296 wrote in a candidate.  Under this new system, every vote for a candidate other than Donald Trump would be rendered effectively worthless.  After all, the 6th district leans heavily Republican and it is pretty much a forgone conclusion that any Republican candidate will win the 6th district regardless of who he or she might be and his or her principles.  Why, in this case, would a 6th district Democratic voter be enthusiastic to vote if he or she knows his or her vote won’t change the outcome.  Also, in 2008 Barack Obama visited the 6th district while in 2012 Paul Ryan came and in 2016 it was Mike Pence.  Under this Chase/Cole system, no candidate would waste his or her time to visit the 6th because one could assume it would safely be in Republican hands and therefore working to recruit additional Republican or Democratic votes in the region would be an exercise in folly as at most it would result in a gain of only 2 electoral votes, a total fewer than even the smallest state (which gets 3 electoral votes).  Voters in the 6th district and elsewhere would be completely ignored as campaigns instead focused upon the battleground congressional districts.  However, I should point out that there are very few battleground districts in Virginia because most congressional districts have been gerrymandered to ensure that each is safe for the incumbent representatives.  As the Republicans presently control the General Assembly, they have drawn congressional lines to ensure that Democratic voters are packed into as few safe districts and that a majority of our members of the House of Representatives will be Republicans.  Should the Democrats regain the General Assembly during a redistricting year, it is likely they will act in a similar fashion.

Speaking of gerrymandering, under this new system, if it appears that the balance of power is shifting in congressional districts, cities or counties can be moved into other congressional districts to ensure the outcome remains relatively constant.  Under these present lines, I would argue that a Democratic presidential candidate can be certain of at least 4 electoral votes from the 3rd, 4th, 8th, and 11th districts, while Republicans will pick up at least 5, the 1st, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 9th.

Although I would like to see Virginia move away from a winner-take-all electoral system, this proposed change is likely even worse at marginalizing the average voter than the one we currently have in place.  What if instead Virginia would give her electoral votes proportionally.  Given that Virginia has 13 votes, what if a candidate received one electoral vote for each 7.69% of the statewide vote he or she won?  Therefore, no one’s vote could be gerrymandered into congressional districts and thus into irrelevance (as suggested under this proposed change), and even in a stellar year for one candidate the opposition party (or parties) could still rally their troops and have at least something to show for it.  Under this proposal, very few Virginians would feel like their vote is wasted or their voice went unheard.

In closing, I urge you to contact your delegate and state senator and tell them to oppose SB 837 and HB 1425.  Regardless of whether you support the same presidential candidate who won your congressional district, your opinion matters and it shouldn’t be marginalized by legislators in Richmond or by anyone else!

Joshua, The Tutor

Joshua at a recent trip to the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA

Rather than delve into current politics, I’d like to take the opportunity to discuss some of what I’ve been up to in the last several months (as my posts aren’t quite as frequent as they have been in the past.  Well, as some of my readers might remember, in the spring semester of 2015 I served as a political science tutor for a student at JMU.  It seemed he appreciated my services and hired me again for the following fall semester too.  However, in December he graduated and although I haven’t spoken to him since then, I certainly hope he has found meaningful employment wherever he happens to reside.

Halfway through the fall semester of 2016, I received an email from another JMU student, this time a student was looking for assistance in her world history class.  With the experience from the previous year under my belt along with my knowledge and passion for the subject, I took the position.  I quickly discovered that much of her class was an exploration of political world history, knowing about leaders, peoples, and the relationships between them (which sometimes led to armed conflict).  Given that politics is such a passion of mine, I already knew much about topics such as WWI, WWII, the Shah, the Cuban Revolution.  However, I was surprised to find that the professor explored areas as life in German Southwest Africa, the writings of Mao and Mussolini, and the lives of average women in the Soviet Union.  As such, I ended up spending considerable time in Carrier Library, reading through the assigned texts.  In some ways, it is ironic given my undergraduate degree in government; I felt more confident of the subject matter than the previous political science class I tutored and yet spent far more effort preparing for this one.

Were there frustrating moments?  Absolutely.  For example, I was greatly disheartened to discover that although the third exam covered world history from about 1880 to 1945, the only question on the test was about Afghanistan.  With so many political and societal upheavals going on during this time period, it didn’t make sense to me why the exam would be so narrowly focused.  After all, it was supposedly world history, not merely the history of one country in Asia and their relationship to the British Empire.

Nevertheless, despite this setback, I found this tutoring experience to be particularly rewarding, and I don’t mean monetarily.  Yes, I did receive payment for my efforts, of course, but I really enjoyed learning more about world history and sharing this knowledge with my student.  Sometimes, I would explain more about world events than what was presented in the assigned readings, including details of what happened prior to them as well as how they changed the future.  I began to look forward to our sessions eagerly; sometimes they were weekly, sometimes they were multiple times per week.  We worked hard to get through the textbook and the other articles.

Now that it’s over, I have to say that that I enjoyed this job more than any I have had since I began writing this blog back in mid-2008.  There was something about learning new material alongside my previous knowledge and then imparting this information to aid my student’s success.  Although I wish that I could say that I was able to transform this student’s failing grade into an A, as I did with my first student, given that it was a good bit later in the semester, I’m happy that she ended up passing the class.  And, she told me that if she took another history or political science class, she would be certain to reach out to me again.

At this point, I have no idea when or if the next student will seek me out and my next tutoring opportunity will come along.  But, I hope that it does, because I really enjoyed it.  And, as they say, “find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work another day in your life.”  One day we will see a return of Joshua, the Tutor, or perhaps even Joshua, the Teacher, or Joshua, the Professor.

The Schmookler & Huffman Show (Episode XLII)

On Wednesday, December 7th, Andy Schmookler and Joshua Huffman appeared on 550 AM, WSVA for their monthly political radio hour.  We looked back on 2016, including the surprising presidential election, and spoke about the 2017 elections, which includes the race for the next Governor of Virginia.  After all, there is at least one election in Virginia every single year.

As always, if you missed the show live, you can catch it on the WSVA website.

Thanks for listening!

Donald Trump is…My Fault?

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Photo by Gage Skidmore

Usually, when an election is over, especially a highly contentious one such as the 2016 presidential election, tensions run high for months or even years later.  Nevertheless, I was still quite surprised when a local Democratic elected official recently declared that I was one of the people responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

For the regular readers of this website, many of you already know that I am not nor have I been a supporter of Donald Trump.  Ever since he descended that escalator, announced his candidacy for president, and declared that most Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” I became a vocal critic.  As I wrote back in August of 2015, “Mr. Trump’s rhetoric appeals to some of the worst elements of our society”.  I called his comments “reprehensible” and, along with his blatant sexism, said that he “demonstrates that he isn’t presidential material”.

A year later, I didn’t view Mr. Trump anymore favorably and called both the Trump and Clinton campaigns, “A Campaign of Fear and Hatred.”  I’m sure it doesn’t come as any surprise, but I didn’t vote for Donald Trump in the Virginia Republican primary nor did I cast a ballot for him in the general election.  Yes, I may have declared Marco Rubio was the worst Republican candidate on the Virginia primary ballot, but in that same piece I called Donald Trump “unacceptable”.  However, just because Donald Trump was terrible, that didn’t somehow make Hillary Clinton somehow acceptable by comparison.

I would challenge anyone to point out any of my statements where I encourage any voter to cast a ballot for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.  And yet, as this elected official claims, anyone who voted for a third party candidate or chose not to vote is at fault for the election of Donald Trump.  This viewpoint, in my opinion, is quite sophomoric and harkens back to George W. Bush where a third way was inconceivable to him.

Now, this local official isn’t alone in expressing this idea.  For example, about a year ago a Republican leader credited me with electing Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia because I didn’t support either the Republican or Democratic candidate in that election.  As such, because the Democrat won, the only explanation is that it was “my fault” and the fault of everyone who voted Libertarian.  Surely it had nothing to do with the weakness of the campaigns and the lack of issues and substance from both of the major party candidates.

It is important for you to remember that you own your vote and no candidate or party has an automatic claim to it.  They must earn it and if they fail to speak to you, either figuratively or literally, then you are under no compulsion to support them.  And, if one of the major party candidates wins, it is exceedingly foolish to declare that it is the fault of third party voters that your side didn’t win.  If one side is looking for someone to blame for their loss, maybe they ought to blame themselves.  Perhaps the major party that lost shouldn’t have nominated a candidate who the voters found so detestable.  Perhaps they should have run a more competent campaign.  And, if voting for your principles means voting for a third party candidate or an independent, that is your right and that should not be demeaned.  As Penn Jillette says, (warning for language):

Remember, despite what some Republicans and Democrats might say in order to guilt trip you into supporting someone who you don’t believe in, it is not the fault of a third party voter if the lesser (or greater) of two evils wins.  Heck, if we had a level playing field and a multiparty system, like just about every other Western democratic nation, which many Democrats and Republicans have been actively trying to suppress, the only people to blame for electing a bad politician are the people who actually cast a vote for him or her.