Leahy: Harry Byrd’s Political Descendants Versus Virginians’ Voting Rights
An essential conceit of the “Virginia Way” as practiced during the long reign of Sen Harry Byrd’s “Organization” is that public officials were honest and corruption was rare.
It was all hogwash, of course. As historian and author Brent Tarter wrote, Byrd’s machine “thrived” not because it was clean but because its power was rooted in the “more systemic and profound corruption of a constricted electorate” and a poll tax that disenfranchised millions of Black and poor White voters.
The machine is long dead, but some of its practices — including finding ingenious ways to manipulate the electorate — appear to be alive and well.
Evidence of that is on display in the ongoing legal fight Paul Goldman, my former writing partner, is waging in a federal courtroom in Richmond over voting rights and the constitutionality of Virginia’s 2021 House of Delegates elections.
In a new brief filed with the district court, Goldman enlists math to help make his case. And the numbers he provides are compelling: Goldman calculates that there are massive population differences between House districts. The biggest variance he found was between House District 87 and House District 75:
The old House District 87 ranked as the most populated with 130,192 inhabitants. Old House District 75 ranked as the least populated with 67,404 inhabitants. … This calculates to a 78.4% maximum population deviation.
Note: Old district lines and 2021 results can be found here.
Goldman says the population difference between districts in 2021 is nearly 300 percent more than variations between Virginia House districts a federal court ruled in 1981 were “facially unconstitutional.”
Think about that for a second. The current and former Virginia attorney general — Jason Miyares (R) and Mark R. Herring (D), respectively) — plus their legal teams, plus the Democratic and Republican leaders of the General Assembly, plus current Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, and former governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, have no apparent problems with this situation.
It gets worse.