Commentary: Virginians Can Be the Winners

Commentary: Virginians Can Be the Winners

For many years into the future the example of one vote making a difference will be the House of Delegates election in the 94th House district in Virginia. After all legal issues are resolved, a winner will be finally announced. The winner will have won by a single vote or by a drawing of lots as Virginia law prescribes. You simply cannot get an election outcome closer than that. Every vote does count. But the importance of that one vote goes beyond deciding who will represent the people in that district; it will also decide which of the two parties will have a majority in the House of Delegates or whether the parties will be tied. Too bad for the people who might have an interest in the outcome but did not bother to vote.

The one-vote outcome along with a wave of voter participation transformed the Commonwealth’s legislative control in the House from Republican dominance of 66 members to 34 Democratic legislators to an even division or an advantage of one depending on that one final vote. Legislation of importance like expanding health insurance to those in need to adequately funding schools and encouraging gun safety that could not make it through the majority party that has been dominated by ultra-conservatives is much more likely to receive a hearing with a greater chance of a favorable hearing.

I do not sense an appetite from the people with whom I have talked for political posturing and grandstanding. To the contrary, I believe there is a public expectation that we work out whatever we need in order to proceed with the business of the legislature and to resolving issues that have been left unaddressed for too long. The one-upmanship that too often dominates the political world needs to be set aside. There is important work that needs to get done.

A study by the National Conference of State Legislatures found that between 1970 and 2003 there have been 32 tied legislatures in 22 states. The report described various ways that states have dealt with the situation.

The North Carolina House of Representatives resolved a tie in 2002 by having two speakers of the house, one from each party who alternated each day. Similar agreements were used in the Indiana House in 1988, the Michigan House in 1992 and the Nevada Assembly in 1994. Wyoming’s law provides for a coin toss to pick the majority party. Indiana, Montana and South Dakota break a tie by selecting the party of a top official like the governor, the NCSL report said. Washington State had co-speakers for a session that was described as cumbersome but workable. When the Florida Senate tied, one party’s leader served as chamber president for the first year of the term, followed by the other party’s leader the second year.

The people have made their voices heard in a historic election turnout in 2017. Campaigning has ended; it is time to start governing. A power-sharing agreement can be worked out. Virginians will be the winners when a power-sharing agreement is in place.