Yesterday, Virginia Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26) sent out a highly partisan email lambasting Democrats for supposedly doing away with “free, open and fair elections” in the Commonwealth. For those who subscribe to his messages, it is typical of his current tactics. He rails against Democrats as enemies of freedom by spreading fear and deception while encouraging his readers to support the Republican Party and to “vote Red” regardless of any ideological consideration. As one example of this behavior, in February he made a Facebook post claiming that Virginia Democrats sought to ban “livestock, cars and airplanes”. Although I asked for him to share a bill from the 2020 General Assembly session which actually would outlaw any of these things, there was no response.
The truth is that Mark Obenshain doesn’t care at all about promoting “free, open and fair elections.” How do I know this? Back in 2014, I ran for Harrisonburg City Council. I found it surprising that, in order for my name to be listed on the ballot, I had to collect the signatures of 125 registered voters in the city. Neither my Republican nor Democratic opponents had to do likewise. As unequal ballot access is not the mark of “free, open and fair elections” after the race was over I drafted a bill for the Virginia General Assembly which declared that all candidates, regardless of partisan affiliation, had to jump through the same hoops to be listed on the ballot. I presented the bill to my state senator, Mark Obenshain. However, Obenshain told me that he was strongly opposed to my idea, declaring that only Republicans and Democrats ought to be able to run for office.
To further drive this point home, in the following 2015 General Assembly session, Obenshain sponsored a bill to enact party registration. His bill would require all voters to declare themselves as Republicans, Democrats, or independents. No other choices were allowed. Furthermore, Virginia taxpayers would continue to have to foot the bill for Republican and Democratic primaries, but a good portion of them would no longer be allowed to participate in these state-sponsored contests. As Senator Petersen (D-34) pointed out, “I understand that the purpose of the gentleman’s bill is to restrict participation in the primaries.” Fortunately, Obenshain’s bill was defeated. Senator Obenshain tried his bill again in 2017 and I diligently lobbied as many of the members of the General Assembly as I could against it. This time, the bill died in committee.
Senator Obenshain’s email also decries the governor’s suggestion to move local May elections to November due to concerns over the Coronavirus. There is considerable evidence to suggest that moving local elections to November would help Democratic candidates at the expense of Republicans. A majority of Virginians will almost certainly vote for the Democratic nominee for president, and it is likely that, when voters cast their vote against President Trump, they will also vote against any candidate who shares his partisan affiliation. By contrast, if a Democrat were in the White House, I assume that Obenshain would support moving local elections to November in order to improve the chances of his party’s nominees.
The only aspect of Obenshain’s email that I agree with is his desire for citizens to be required to present some form of identification in order to vote. We have to present ID in order to engage in a multitude of activities such as buying alcohol, flying in a plane, or renting a car. However, does it have to be a photo ID as Obenshain insists? Not necessarily; any ID which can be used to verify a person should be sufficient. And just because an ID has a photo, that doesn’t necessarily make it valid. For example, sometimes students create fake driver’s licenses in order to purchase alcohol underage. Would individuals also use fake IDs in order to vote? It is certainly possible though I would expect the number of people who would do so to be a very small amount.
Although Obenshain may sound sincere in his email, given his actions over the last several years, I don’t believe that he cares at all about “free, fair and open elections” and, in fact, has shown that he is happy to undermine the concept of “free, fair and open elections” should it serve his political interests. He’s willing to support rigging the political game if it benefits himself and the Republican Party but is upset when the Democrats employ similar tactics. This behavior is hypocritical.