By far the most common voting problem in Virginia on Election Day was long lines at polling places. In Hampton Roads, where some of the longest lines occurred, The Virginian-Pilot on Friday had an informative story on state Sen. Janet Howell’s six-year campaign to relax restrictions on early voting in Virginia, and how the Democrat has met with no success in the GOP-dominated General Assembly. Timely and thorough reporting on an issue to watch.
Apart from the lines, complaints of actual problems with the vote were rare in Virginia. There was a Huffington Post report of some Korean American seniors who “felt bullied” at an Annandale polling site in suburban Washington, D.C. that’s worth a follow-up by local media.
Another incident that I wrote about for CJR— involving a Pennsylvania man working for a GOP voter registration effort who was seen throwing registration forms into a dumpster— is in need of some follow-through, too. On November 2, The Washington Post reported that the state’s investigation was expanding to look at the firm that had hired the worker, a group led by “longtime GOP operative” Nathan Sproul.
The Daily News-Record of Harrisonburg reported on the incident on Election Day in a story that is unfortunately archived behind a paywall. The paper nodded to the Post story and noted that a preliminary hearing for the worker will be held Dec. 3. The only bit of added value the News-Record provided was talking with the county sheriff, who said there’s nothing to it, and that he believes it was simply an isolated incident:
Although there is a state investigation under way, Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said his office does not believe widespread fraud took place. Police haven’t released a motive, but a source said Small likely missed the registration deadline to turn in the forms, panicked and tossed them in the trash bin. Third-party groups that register voters must file the forms to the registrar’s office within 15 days.
It’s good to get the local sheriff’s view in, but Harrisonburg would better serve its readers to do some legwork and check out what’s going on with the expanded probe. Other Commonwealth political reporters would be more than welcome to join in, too.
3. Follow the money
Needed: comprehensive reporting on the staggering sums spent this cycle in Virginia—“outside” and candidate spending alike—and its influence on the campaign. To date I’ve seen only passing mention of the role of money in the Kaine-Allen Senate race. For example, toward the end of its day-after story on Kaine v. Allen, the Virginian-Pilot mentions that the race was “one of the most expensive in the nation.”
I’m hoping for an expansive look in each market of who spent how much and for whom. Also, where did the money go? How does that money circulate around the market? What stays in-state? It’s the stuff of major projects, and hopefully some of it is in the works.
It would also be interesting to read an account of the state’s US House races and what produced this result (all incumbents won re-election; 8 of 11 seats remained Republican). The Times-Dispatch took on the redistricting angle, as I noted above, but what role did money play? Other factors?
4. “Fiscal cliff”
For a state dependent on defense industry jobs, the “fiscal cliff” of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to kick in on January 1st—the latter with the potential to cost many thousands of defense industry jobs, if it actually goes into effect—looms especially large here.
Greg Marx did a great job explaining the “fiscal whatchamacallit” (and the “problem with the [“fiscal cliff”] metaphor that the media and political elites have seized onto”) in a CJR post on Friday, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch had an informative piece on Sunday on how Virginia politicians could play a key role in its resolution.
Virginians will need their press corps to stay on this story—with, as Marx wrote , “clear-eyed reporting”—as the process plays out.
The next election cycle may not officially begin, at least by the Federal Election Commission’s count, until January. But there’s plenty of work for political reporters to do between now and then—and thereafter.