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The most basic act of self-governance

Published in Uncategorized on January 08, 2018 by Convention Of States

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The following was written by Rita Dunaway and originally published on

In the nation of the most-celebrated government on earth, in the state George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison called home, control of the people’s lawmaking body was determined last week by lottery.

This is the news from the Commonwealth of Virginia, where last November the GOP watched its 66-34 majority in the House of Delegates shrink to a 51-49 majority after the apparent election results came in. But when a subsequent recount of votes in the 94th legislative district indicated that Democrat challenger Shelly Simonds had actually beaten Republican incumbent David Yancey by a single vote, the GOP’s one-vote margin dissolved. What materialized in its place was the messy, horrific prospect of an evenly split House.

But the story was far from over.

The day after that fateful recount, a three-judge panel ruled that one ballot, which had been declared “ineligible” during the recount process, should actually have been counted for Yancey. This ruling officially rendered the race a tie, with each candidate having received exactly 11,608 votes. Simonds was unsuccessful in appealing this ruling.

And so, in a bizarre ceremony prominently featuring a decorative blue bowl (and a contrived public nod to the arts), the Virginia Board of Elections held a drawing to determine which candidate would represent the people of Virginia’s 94th legislative district.

Using games of chance to determine the winner of a tied election is not unprecedented. The stakes, however, made this situation remarkable; the outcome of this particular lottery determined the very balance of power in Virginia’s House of Delegates.

Because Yancey’s name was drawn, the Republicans will retain a majority in the House for now – but only by a single vote. If Simonds’ name had been drawn, however, the House would have been evenly split, thus necessitating some sort of awkward power-sharing arrangement between Republicans and Democrats, and virtually ensuring that nothing of any consequence would be accomplished for the next two years.

With a Democrat governor holding veto power, a Senate held by 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats (and a Democrat lieutenant governor wielding the tie-breaking vote), the situation gives new meaning to the concept of “divided government.”

But a state legislature divided to the point of gridlock isn’t the real tragedy in our great constitutional republic. The real tragedy is that as of the 2010 census, there were 79,429 people living in Virginia’s 94th legislative district, and less than one-third of them voted for someone to represent them in the halls of their state legislature.

Ironically, pollsters and pundits celebrated this particular election for yielding the highest voter turnout in two decades for a Virginia governor’s race. But the truth is, even this “landmark” statewide turnout rate, at 47 percent, represents an abysmal failure of “we, the people,” to fulfill our civic duties.

I know, I know. We’ve all been hearing about shockingly low voter turnout rates in the U.S. for decades. So we work hard to get friends and neighbors to the polls. We try to convince them that their vote really matters. But have we ever helped citizens understand why their vote matters, or explained the multitude of implications of low voter turnout?

We can’t deny that some people live in districts where their votes will matter less than others’ in terms of an election’s outcome. But in a more transcendental sense, it can truly be said that every vote, everywhere really does matter – because a vote is more than just weight added to a pile.

A vote represents a civic duty fulfilled, a legacy honored and a hope manifested. It is the hope that the inclination and energy of a people to resist tyranny and to govern themselves will persist through this and future generations.

On the other hand, low voter turnout sends a foreboding message to our own government officials and to the rest of the world. It signals that we are no longer the audacious, liberty-loving self-starters who once insisted upon governing ourselves. It paints an embarrassing picture of a bunch of spoiled, lazy whiners who are quick to complain, quick to unleash their litany of government grievances upon anyone who will listen, but utterly unwilling to perform even the most basic, simple act of self-governance: the act of making a mark on paper.

For all future elections, let’s put away expensive recounts, judicial panels, ceramic bowls and tie-breaking ceremonies. Let’s stir up the old spirit of dogged commitment to self-governance that can render them obsolete.

While voting for members of the U.S. Congress can at times feel useless, voting in state elections is still hugely important. The states control a Convention of States, so it's important that we elect liberty-minded individuals to our state governments!

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