Virginia House of Delegates Elections Could Get Complicated

July 11, 2021 by Dan McCue
Paul Goldman

While states across the country have been grappling with a delay in the reporting of U.S. Census Bureau data as they contemplate drawing new election district maps, the pandemic-caused slowing of the information could impact Virginia House of Delegates races for years to come.

In a lawsuit filed last month, Richmond, Va. attorney Paul Goldman, a potential candidate for the House of Delegates, argues that the state would violate the Commonwealth’s Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution if it waits until 2023 to hold House elections on updated maps drawn using 2020 Census data.

If a federal judge sides with Goldman the result could be candidates for the state House having to run in three consecutive elections, from 2021 to 2023.

Under normal circumstances, members of the House of Delegates are elected to two year terms in off-year elections. That would mean this year, and 2023.

And in both cases, the elections would be run in new districts that reflect the just completed, once-a-decade population data from the Census. 

But this year isn’t normal.

The new Virginia Redistricting Committee isn’t expecting to receive the Census data it needs to create the new map until mid-August, meaning the new districts won’t be ready in time for the November House elections. 

Further complicating the issue is language in Virginia’s Constitution that appears to require elections be held on the new maps this year. 

Goldman, a former state Democratic Party Chairman, has said he felt compelled to file the lawsuit after neither political party stepped up to address the situation.

He has called their silence on the matter part of the “unwritten incumbent protection act.”

In his complaint, Goldman relies heavily on Cosner v. Dalton, a 1981 federal court decision that required Virginia to hold three-in-a-row House elections. 

That case stemmed in part from claims that legislative districts drawn by the General Assembly violated the one person, one vote legal precedent. 

The court ruled existing lines be redrawn because of substantial population deviation among districts. 

Because 1981 campaigns were already underway, it kept the existing districts in place for that vote and ordered a new election in 1982 using the new maps. 

Though Goldman does not press a civil rights claim, he argues the same outcome should apply to the current controversy.

He’s asking the U.S. District Court to declare this year’s elections for the House of Delegates invalid, limit the terms of delegates elected in 2021 to one year, and order new elections to take place in 2022.

“According to Cosner, plaintiff’s protected core political rights should allow (an individual) to run for the House of Delegates in 2022, not being forced to wait until 2023 due to the failure of the appropriate state authorities to adhere to the requirements of the federal constitution,” the complaint says.

Legal and election observers are wary of Goldman’s claim, saying Cosner is fundamentally different from his claim, and that without the potential violation of civil rights that was alleged in the Cosner case, there isn’t the same urgency for the court to act.

Earlier this year, Goldman settled a lawsuit in which he was described as a candidate for lieutenant governor, that sought to lower requirements to qualify for primary and general election ballots due to the ongoing pandemic, including collecting 80 percent fewer petition signatures from registered voters.

Under the deal negotiated with Attorney General Mark Herring’s office, candidates would be required to submit only 2,000 signatures, rather than the 10,000 required by state law. 

At least 50 of the signatures would have to come from each of the 11 congressional districts.

In addition, the agreement called for the state Department of Elections to post online a petition form that voters can download, fill out, photograph and send to a candidate they want to help get on the ballot. 

The agreement would allow voters to submit their name and signature in that fashion without requiring a notary.

Goldman dropped out of the lieutenant governor’s race in April.

Goldman served as the chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia from 1990–1993. Before that he helped Douglas Wilder get elected lieutenant governor in 1985 and in 1989 to become the nation’s first elected African American governor. 

Since then, his focus has been on politics in the city of Richmond, where he has pushed for the city to modernize and improve its public schools.

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