IS THERE anything in our lives that hasn’t been infected by COVID-19?
Certainly you can add politics to the list.
In Virginia, two side effects in particular are worth noting, one that is likely have a bearing on this November’s elections, and one that will definitely be felt a year later.
The first issue is voter registration. In April, 5,467 new voters registered in Virginia, a drop of 73 percent from 2016 and 81 percent in 2012, the last two presidential election years.
Department of Motor Vehicles offices have been closed (and are only starting to re-open) because of the coronavirus, and that’s where a lot of new registrations occur. Also, voter registration drives were pretty much nonexistent with colleges shut down and festivals and other large gatherings canceled.
New Virginia Majority, an advocacy group for registering new voters, signed up about 9,000 of them in 2016. This year, the whole operation has been hobbled by the pandemic.
If COVID-19 cases dwindle and there is a return to something resembling normalcy, voter registration could make up for lost time. But it’s hard to imagine the final tally in November will be close to what it usually is in a normal presidential year.
Who benefits most from a large turnout? Non-voters tend to lean Democratic, although that assumption is in doubt in many of the swing states. New voters skew young, and younger voters are more likely to vote for Democrats, which could make a smaller turnout this November problematic for them.
The second area in which the pandemic will affect Virginia politics takes place next year.
Remember how the Senate and House of Delegates finally approved putting a redistricting amendment on the ballot this fall, giving Virginia a chance to be at the forefront in dismantling gerrymandering?
Well, even if it passes (and it probably will, since about 70 percent of Virginians say they favor it), we probably won’t be free of politically created districts until at least 2023.
Why? The census.
The new districts depend on information from the 2020 census, and COVID-19 has slowed census-taking so much that the final tally is being delayed by 120 days. That will push things back far enough so that there won’t be time for Virginia to do everything necessary to have those new districts in play for the gubernatorial, lieutenant governor, attorney general and House of Delegates elections in 2021.
Whether this is good for the Democrats or the Republicans is hard to say. After the last census, when the GOP had the whip hand in Virginia, the Republicans redrew districts to their liking. Now with the Democrats in control, they could return the favor if not for the redistricting amendment.
If the amendment passes as expected, a panel consisting of eight legislators (four from each party) and eight other Virginians will draw the new district lines. The state still will have fairer, more sensible districts, but we almost certainly will have to wait another two years for that happy day.
As with the COVID-19 shutdown, this will require some patience.