Why Virginia Matters in 2021

Despite what you may have heard, there’s no such thing as an “off-year” election.

Municipal elections, county elections, school board elections — they don’t wait for even-numbered years, and they’re every bit as important as federal races. And in 2021, voters in two states (New Jersey and Virginia) will vote for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and state legislators.

This year, PTP plans to place more than 200 Turnout Fellows on legislative campaigns in New Jersey and Virginia, and our Postcards to Swing States volunteers will send more than 3 million postcards to voters there.

Progressive Turnout Project is investing heavily in both states, and Virginia in particular is a great example of why state-level races are so critical. Here are just a few big reasons why Virginia matters in 2021:

State Legislatures Are the New Battleground for Voting Rights

For one of the most glaring reasons, you don’t need to look any further than 2021’s headlines. While too many states — most visibly, Georgia and Texas — are regressing on voting rights, Virginia’s Democratic trifecta made it the first Southern state with its own Voting Rights Act

But if Republicans gain control in Virginia, they could roll back those historic wins.

Republican-led states are proposing things like:

  • reducing voting hours
  • cutting the number of polling places and ballot dropboxes
  • criminalizing giving water to voters waiting in long lines
  • pushing back Sunday voting to hurt Souls to the Polls

Meanwhile, in addition to the Voting Rights Act, Virginia Democrats have passed:

  • 45 days of no-excuse absentee voting
  • automatic voter registration
  • a repeal of VA’s discriminatory voter ID law
  • requirements for voting materials in other languages, where needed

“It was reactive to Virginia’s history, but it was also proactive because of what we were seeing in other states.”

Delegate Marcia Price, sponsor of the Voting Rights Act of Virginia 

Other state officials can have big impacts on voting rights, too. During his term as  Virginia’s Governor, Terry McAuliffe used his power to reinstate voting rights for more than 173,000 previously incarcerated Virginians.

As if to underscore this contrast, McAuliffe is the Democratic nominee for governor in 2021 against a Republican who parrots Trump’s Big Lie and wants to restrict voting rights. It’s one reason we enthusiastically endorsed Gov. McAuliffe this month.

To be clear, voting rights shouldn’t depend on where you live. Congress urgently needs to pass both the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore tools used to fight voter suppression from 1965 to 2013.

But until we have strong Federal protections for voting rights on the books, state capitols will remain the epicenter of pro-voter and anti-voter legislation.

Break Through the Gridlock

With Mitch McConnell proclaiming “100% of our focus is on stopping” President Biden, we know obstructionism will limit what’s possible in Congress, for now.

Meanwhile, state legislatures are going to be the front lines of some of our most important fights — not just voting rights, but reproductive rights, racial and economic justice, education, and more.

And the worst of those laws may eventually make their way to a 6–3, far-right Supreme Court, ready to rubber stamp continued erosions of our rights and give the green light for other states to do the same.

All this makes it more important than ever that states like Virginia stay under Democratic control. (Democrats have only been in charge in Virginia since 2019, and look at everything they’ve accomplished already!)

This is Where Future Leaders Get Their Start

Developing the Democratic bench is about more than one election. It will pay dividends for the party in years to come. The folks running for state legislator today — if they get the support they need — will join a growing, increasingly diverse pool of candidates for offices at every level of government. 

We don’t just mean the folks running for office, either. They have hundreds of staff and volunteers for whom 2021’s campaigns will be one more step toward running for office themselves. Win or lose, investing in these races is investing in the Democratic Party’s future.

Read more: Our 2021 Endorsements in Virginia

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