A look at an exceptional election

A resident on Fredericksburg Avenue in the town of Louisa expresses her wishes as the November election arrives.

The November election was, and continues to be, historic. Joe Biden was elected the oldest person ever to serve as president and Kamala Harris became the first woman (and the first Black woman) elected vice president.

This election is also distinctive in that several days after poll results showed Biden with an apparently insurmountable lead, President Donald Trump has not conceded. He has alleged, so far without substantive evidence, that the vote was marred by fraud, and his lawyers filed suits to challenge the results in several states where the margin was narrow between him and Biden. Other Republican leaders said they wouldn’t comment on the election results until all votes are counted.

A nail-biter of a 7th District House of Representatives race ended with Abigail Spanberger’s re-election, followed a day later by her strong criticism of the Democratic Party for messaging that she said almost cost her the vote. Speaking at a House Democratic Caucus meeting, she said the party should never use the word “socialism” again, or the phrase “defund the police.”  

Nick Freitas, who has not conceded to Spanberger, does not have grounds to request a recount since he lost by more than one percent. He said on Nov. 4 that he would wait to make a public statement until all localities complete their canvass of results. 

Elections officials are still counting votes in several states, including Pennsylvania and Georgia. Here in Virginia, there has been little discussion of fraud, as the count is complete and the only task left is for local electoral boards to certify their results to the state.

The Louisa Electoral Board wrapped up its canvass on Nov. 6 and certified the results, adding 120 votes to those tallied on Nov. 3. Of the 120 votes, 75 were absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and submitted to the registrar’s office by the Nov. 6 noon deadline. The remainder were provisional votes, cast at the polls but only counted later after the board resolved questions about whether they were cast properly.

Curtis Haymore, electoral board chairman, said “everyone was very pleased” with the election, which began on Sept. 18 with early voting. 

“As usual, there were a couple small problems, but nothing that was disruptive,” he said. 

The Virginia Board of Elections is scheduled by law to meet Nov. 16 to certify the statewide results. As for the presidential election, the electors for Biden and Harris are expected to meet in Richmond on Dec. 14 to vote for the Democratic ticket. That date is prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.

As the election begins to slowly fade into the rear-view mirror, the focus in Virginia is shifting to how redistricting will happen, and what impact it might have on future races at the federal and state levels.

That’s because voters overwhelmingly approved Constitutional Amendment #1, a dramatic change to how legislative boundaries are drawn. Instead of the party in power in the Virginia General Assembly drawing the lines, a commission will be formed made up of an equal number of legislators and citizens. The two major political parties will have equal weight among the legislators.

New lines could have an impact on at least two high-profile races: Del. John McGuire’s re-election effort in 2021 and Spanberger’s next race, in 2022. Lines will also be redrawn for local voting districts, including those for the board of supervisors and school board.

The deadlines for drawing new lines are subject to possible change, because of delays with the U.S. Census related to the coronavirus. The 2020 Census data has to be delivered before redistricting can begin. Trump ordered the Census to wrap up its work at the end of September, despite delays in the count, which could mean redistricting proceeds on schedule.

During an online post-election forum organized by Virginia Public Access Project, representatives from the Democratic and Republican sides debated over whether Spanberger is right that certain messages had a significant influence on the vote. Alice Lin Tong, deputy campaign manager for Sen. Mark Warner, said Spanberger has a good point about the term socialism.

“The idea of socialism is not quite mainstream within our party,” Tong said. 

But she said she didn’t think talk of “defunding” police in the wake of widespread protests over the summer against racial injustice affected many undecided voters. She pointed instead to the insensitivity of Freitas’ selling masks during the coronavirus pandemic that read “Made in China.”

“I don’t think a single voter decided on who to vote for based on what those masks said,” said Rob Simms, a partner in Northern Virginia-based Convergence Media who handled digital media for Freitas.

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