November 5, 2019; New York Times
At NPQ, we don’t usually cover state elections, but the election this time in Virginia was eventful, with Democrats winning both houses of the state legislature for the first time in a quarter-century. Associated Press reporters Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie report that state Democratic Party priorities include a higher minimum wage, new gun restrictions, greater abortion rights, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
To date, 37 states have ratified the ERA, approved by the requisite two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress way back in 1972. Adoption requires ratification by 38 states. Congress included a time limit for ratification that expired long ago; however, the time limit may be unconstitutional, meaning that if Virginia passes the ERA next year as expected, the Equal Rights Amendment might soon become the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution.
At NPQ, we will be certain to follow this story as it develops. If the ERA were added to the Constitution decades after a Congressional vote, it would not be the first time. Back in 1992, the 27th Amendment, which bars Congress from raising its own salaries until an election has passed, was adopted; Congress had originally approved that amendment in 1789.
Yet even though the policy issues are most significant, we also want to call attention to the tale of one seat that “flipped” in this week’s election—the 94th District seat in Newport News.
A few NPQ readers might recall that district, as we wrote about 2017’s race for that same seat three times, a race that pitted Democratic candidate Shelly Simonds against Republican incumbent David Yancey. It was, to say the least, a very unusual election. We wrote first when it appeared that Simonds had carried the district by a single vote after an automatic recount overturned a narrow 10-vote margin for Yancey. Then, a single invalid ballot was reinstated for Yancey, leading a three-judge panel to declare an official tie on a 11,608–11,608 vote. Lastly, Yancey’s name was drawn out of a bowl, preserving a 51–49 Republican majority in the Virginia state house by the narrowest of margins.
This time, Simonds prevailed easily by a margin of 58 percent to 40 percent. Simonds, Daniel Victor reports in the New York Times, benefitted from “a court-ordered remapping of voting districts, tilting the 94th District toward Democrats” that occurred before this year’s election.
While the US Supreme Court has been loath to take action in gerrymandering cases, in Virginia’s case, Court inaction benefitted Virginia Democrats. As Victor explains, “In June, the United States Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that struck down parts of the map on race-discrimination grounds, and the maps were redrawn to more evenly distribute black voters.”
In terms of seats, Democrats now lead in the Virginia House by a 54 to 43 margin, with one seat going to an independent and two still undecided. In the Virginia Senate, Democrats prevailed by a 21 to 19 margin. Compared to the last election, Democrats have succeeded in gaining a minimum of five seats in the House and two seats in the Senate.
For her part, Simonds said, “I’m just so glad that the voters of Newport News helped us rewrite the ending of our story. It didn’t have to end with a bowl.”—Steve Dubb