Forget about the partisan squabbling among Republicans and Democrats over the seating of Alexandria Democrat Charniele Herring in the Generally Assembly. The Republican majority in the House refusing to seat her last week in its first session sparked a roadblock to an otherwise auspicious beginning of an important budget year.
But the real losers are the voters of the 46th District who were disenfranchised from the onset of the election.
When Brian Moran resigned his delegate post last month, sparking a rushed caucus and special election for his 46th District seat, voters were marginalized, having to vote for candidates they knew little about (if they knew there was election at all, and most did not).
Herrings Republican opponent in the special election, Joe Murray, has every right to ask for a recount; a 16-vote margin of difference warrants it. However, no one should have the right to deny Herring a vote on the House floor after the State Board of Elections duly designated her the winner and therefore legitimate member of the General Assembly. But right now, the 46th District has no voice, no representation in the Commonwealths governing body. This is a disgrace of democracy and has been since the emergency election process began. Look at the timeline:
December 12, 2008: Then-Delegate Brian Moran announces his resignation to focus on his gubernatorial run, leaving just four days for both parties to elect their candidate in a rushed caucus and canvass. Voters had just four days to learn about the election, let alone come to a conclusion.
December 16, 2008: The caucus and canvass are held after scuttled campaigns, the longest lasting about four days. The shortest campaign, Murrays, lasted about five-and-a-half hours. Just 283 voters showed up at the polls, a miniscule number compared with the almost 46,000 voters in the district. Turnout for the 46th District is often low, but the rushed election affected turnout even further.
January 13, 2009: Democrat Charniele Herring is declared the winner based on unofficial results of the special election by just 16 votes, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections. Only about six percent of the districts active voters turned out.
January 14, 2009: Herring attempts to vote on the House floor and is denied by the Republican majority, leaving Alexandrias West End and one Fairfax County precinct without a voice in one of the most important sessions in recent memory. She is denied one more time later, despite being certified as the winner.
A recount has since been scheduled for January 26 but in the meantime there is still no medium in the Assembly for West Enders to be heard. Regardless of party affiliation, the absence of a vote negates the rights of 46th District residents and is a direct affront to democracy. It is magnified further by regressive partisan politics during a movement towards bipartisan cooperation.
After such a flawed democratic process leading up to the special election, the last thing voters deserve is tape over their already marginalized mouths and minds.