by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie
A big chunk of American democracy is riding on Tuesday’s Virginia election.
The outcome could turn on how well Democrats protect the right to vote….and the right to have the votes accurately counted.
If Democrat and anti-Trump activists do not work to guarantee everyone’s access to the polls, they could very well lose the election. The GOP has perfected the use of Jim Crow tactics to prevent from voting countless black, Hispanic and other ethnic citizens by electronic and other means. The Democrats have been weak at best at protecting those votes.
They can also expect a “last minute surge” for Republican candidates, followed by “glitches” in electronic voting machines, especially in rural areas where election boards are controlled by Republicans. If experience in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and elsewhere are any indicator, ballots will be “found” for the Republicans and “lost” for the Democrats in key swing districts. These could easily determine the outcome.
They can also expect a “last minute surge” for Republican candidates, followed by “glitches” in electronic voting machines. As election protection activist Mimi Kennedy puts it:
” Georgia’s Special Election ‘glitched’ last April, when Democrat Jon Ossoff’s totals went over 50% in his House race in the 6th District. That majority would have given him the seat outright. But tabulation in large Fulton County “glitched” for two hours, and when it came back up, Ossof fell below 50% and never recovered. This prompted the runoff election in June, which Ossof’s opponent – Georgia’s Republican former Secretary of State – won by a squeaker margin. When a lawsuit was filed to do forensics on the runoff, Kennesaw State University, which handles Georgia elections, wiped the servers clean but told nobody for months. When forced to admit the destruction of election records, the data managers called it “routine housecleaning.”
“It is predictable that in rural areas of Virginia, where election boards are controlled by Republicans, problems might arise. For many of these counties, the return to paper ballots is brand-new. Ballots must still be counted by software. Experience in states like Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and elsewhere indicate that “glitches” will occur, be blamed on unforeseeable error, and will benefit Republicans, not Democrats, in key swing districts. Experience also shows that questions asked in such cases will go unanswered, and results, however anomalous, will stand.”
So far, the Democrats have been notoriously lax in fighting against such disenfranchisement and vote count theft.
According to election protection specialist John Brakey, Virginia now has electronic machines that provide ballot images. These, he says, must be preserved after the election for purposes of a meaningful recount. It is not yet clear if Democratic operatives are prepared to go to court or do whatever else is required to guarantee such scrutiny. If not, they may once again find that precautionary measures were the only way to avoid more losses from “glitches” that can never be rectified.
Much more is at stake here than just a few statewide offices.
With the governorship will come control of the state’s re-districting—“gerrymandering”—-process for a decade to come. Should the Trump-right Republican Ed Gillespie become governor, he will conspire with the GOP-controlled legislature to re-draw the state’s Congressional and legislative districts in 2020.
In a state that went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, there are eleven Congressional districts. Gerrymandering has given seven seats to Republicans, four to Democrats. Thus a fair, non-partisan redistricting process in 2020 could shift as many as three or four seats in the US House of Representatives. That won’t happen if Gillespie is elected.
Despite a statewide Democratic majority, both houses of the Virginia legislature are controlled by Republicans.
This election will also determine Virginia’s next secretary of state, who will have control over voter registration rolls and vote counts in upcoming elections.
Republican control of the governorship and secretary of state’s office would be very bad news for those fighting the hate-based regime of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. Trump has been asked by the GOP to not campaign in the state. But fascist theoretician Bannon has called the election a referendum on “Trumpism without Trump.”
Bannon, Gillespie and their GOP operatives have saturated the state with vicious, blatantly racist anti-immigrant ads reminiscent of the infamous “Willie Horton” smears run by George H.W. Bush in 1988. Such fascist scare tactics allowed Bush to beat Michael Dukakis. GOP strategist Lee Atwater later apologized for those ads shortly before he died of brain cancer.
This year the Trump/Bannon GOP has saturated Virginia with horrific racist and anti-immigrant messages. They’re also using them in New Jersey, where there is a governor’s race, and elsewhere. Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Northam, has responded by saying he will oppose sanctuary cities in Virginia.
But the race has now become a test of how effective such hate-based propaganda can be.
It will also be a test to see if the Democrats are willing or able to protect the right to vote. And if they can guarantee a fair and accurate electronic vote count after those ballots are cast.
Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman co-wrote The Strip & Flip Disaster of America’s Stolen Elections: Five Jim Crows & Electronic Election Theft (freepress.org, solartopia.org). They broke most of the major stories about the GOP theft of Ohio’s 2004 presidential election. Follow Harvey Wasserman on Twitter @Solartopia.