First, let’s state the obvious:
* By nominating state Sen. Ralph Northam of Norfolk for lieutenant governor, the Democrats avoided an all-Northern Virginia ticket, which is what they would have had if Aneesh Chopra had won. The party’s candidate for governor — Terry McAuliffe — is from Northern Virginia and so were both candidate for attorney general. So the Democrats have a Northern Virginia-Hampton Roads-Northern Virginia ticket, to go up against the Republicans’ Northern Virginia-Hampton Roads-Shenandoah Valley ticket. If you’re scoring at home, you have to give a check to the Republicans for geographical diversity. Whether that kind of thing matters anymore, who knows?
* However, by nominating Northam over Chopra and state Sen. Mark Herring over Justin Fairfax, the Democrats did wind up with an all-white ticket, something the Republicans didn’t do when they nominated E.W. Jackson for lieutenant governor. I’ve already seen Internet memes this morning proclaiming “Virginia Democrats reject minorities in primary” with pictures of Chopra and Fairfax X’ed out.
* There’s the usual day-after back-and-forth over turn-out. Republicans chirp that the turn-out in the Democratic primary was quite low, surely a sign of indifference to the party’s candidates. Democrats point out that they had more people participate in their nominating process than the Republicans did with theirs, since the GOP went with a convention. Feel free to pick your own side in that one. (There is one exception to that, noted below.)
Here’s what I looked at: How many precincts in our side of the state had ZERO voters? Given the low-key nature of a primary for two down-ballot offices, and given the deterioration of the Democratic Party in rural Virginia, a zero-vote precinct shouldn’t be surprising. And, indeed, there are some. I didn’t look at every locality, but I did do a spot check and found:
* In Bedford County, the precincts voting at the New London Academy precincts, Thaxton Elementary and Forest Elementary are showing up on the State Board of Elections site as having no voters. None!
* In Buchanan County, two precincts (Grassy and Oakwood) had no voters.
* Even populous (but Republican) Roanoke County, there were some pretty low-vote precincts. Clearbrook had just three voters in the lieutenant governor’s race and apparently one of them didn’t bother to vote in the attorney general’s race because just two votes showed up there.
* In Botetourt County, the Troutville and Mill Creek precincts had just two voters (and in Mill Creek, as in Clearbook, one of those voters didn’t bother to cast a ballot in the AG’s race.)
* In Craig County, the Ammendale and Craigs Spring precincts had just one voter all day.
* Back in Bedford, only one person showed up in the precinct voting at Suck Springs Baptist Church.
Republicans are making that point that Democrats cost taxpayers a bunch of money to open the polls — and then have pollworkers sit around all day for, in some cases, literally, nothing.
I’d pose a few other questions:
* Why should the political parties — which are essentially private organizations – have the right to invoke the machinery of the state (at taxpayer expense) for their nominating process? (OK, that’s basically the Republican question in a different form.)
* But I guess here’s my real question: How do you have a secret ballot when so few people vote? Over in Bedford, the name of that lone voter at Suck Springs is on the books — and we know he (or she) voted for Chopra for lieutenant governor and Herring for attorney general. Out in Botetourt, we know how the two people in Troutville voted because Northam won 2-0. At least there was a 1-1 tie for attorney general so there’s some modicum of secrecy there. Anyone want to weigh in on that one?
– Dwayne Yancey, senior editor
Now, for the exception I mentioned to the argument that primaries have more participation than non-primary means of nominating candidates: Roanoke County Republicans have pointed out that they had more people vote in their “firehouse primaries” (technically, unassembled caucases) for two supervisor seats than Democrats had in the entire county in Tuesday’s primary. Here’s what the Roanoke County GOP has to say on that, complete with math:
Roanoke County taxpayers paid over $20,000 to conduct Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for Lt. Governor and Attorney General, but less than 1% of County voters participated. The 613 Democrats that voted countywide stood in stark contrast to the 1,357 voters that nominated GOP candidates for Hollins and Windsor Hills Supervisor at party-funded “firehouse primaries” in May.
“We decided to nominate our Supervisor candidates by firehouse primary because we thought it was the best way to maximize participation while eliminating the cost to taxpayers,” said Roanoke County Republican Party Chairman David Suetterlein. “We never dreamed that Republican firehouse primaries in just two of the County’s five magisterial districts would more than double the entire voter turnout for Democrats in their countywide primaries for statewide offices.”
Participation in the GOP-run firehouse process was 5.6% in Hollins and 4% in Windsor Hills while only 0.91% of voters countywide participated in the Democratic Lt. Governor and Attorney General primaries according to the State Board of Elections website. The Republican firehouse primary in the Hollins District, which was limited to only one of the five magisterial districts, actually had 27% more voters than the Democratic Primary that was open to voters in all five magisterial districts.
The Democratic Primary required taxpayers pay for at least three poll workers for 13 hours at every Roanoke County polling location. As a result, there were as many voters as poll workers in the Clearbrook Precinct. All totaled, Roanoke County taxpayers spent an average of $32.63 per Democratic Primary voter yesterday.
County Democrats elected to use a party-run caucus held on the very last day before the June 11 filing deadline to nominate their Supervisor candidates. The countywide Democratic canvass was only attended by 30 people and failed to produce candidates in two of the three districts being contested in the November 5 general election.
“We are proud of the enthusiastic participation in our Republican nominating contests and in our ability to hold them at no cost to taxpayers,” said Suetterlein.
Roanoke County Primaries By the Numbers
Cost to Taxpayers
Democratic Primary: $20,000+
GOP Firehouse Primary: $0
Reg. Voters: 13,938
Dem: 124 – 0.89% turnout
GOP: 778 – 5.58% turnout
Windsor Hills Turnout
Reg. Voters: 14,398
Dem: 146 – 1.01% turnout
GOP: 579 – 4.02% turnout
Dem: 613 – All five magisterial districts – 0.91% turnout
GOP: 1357 – Only two magisterial districts – 4.79% turnout
Election results based on the Democratic Primary Lt. Governor results posted on the State Board of Elections website as of 11 a.m. on June 12. Registered voter numbers based on those provided by the Roanoke County Voter Registrar’s office on June 11.