On Tuesday I served as an Election Officer in Fairfax County and thoroughly enjoyed the experience: it was a chance to stay involved in the democratic process, see friends, and meet new neighbors. One responsibility was to ensure that all qualified voters presenting valid identification were given the opportunity to vote. Sometimes that meant going curbside to a voter that couldn't make it out of their car because of physical impairment.
While waiting for one curbside voter to complete the ballot, I chatted with some friends and my elected Delegate who greeted arriving voters. I quipped to my friends that I felt lonely at the polls, the only independent among an election crew made up of Democrats and Republicans. And then my Delegate spoke.
"Well, in Virginia, there are only Ds and Rs." Huh? Because I was in the midst of official duties I didn't have time to engage. But what?
In discussing my non-party designation with another Election Officer, they too expressed the desire to be independent of party affiliation but felt that it would stunt advancement with the Electoral Board. Personally I liked my role as the sole independent at my polling place: I was the "utility guy", able to cooperate with Ds and Rs in performing the duties of the position.
But there are limitations. I was surprised to find that as an independent, I cannot serve as a Chief or Assistant Chief officer at a poll. Further, a little research found that per § 24.2-115 "Appointment, qualifications, and terms of officers of election" in the Code of Virginia, independents could not comprise more than one-third of a precinct's Election Officers. Given the estimate that about 40 percent of Fairfax County voters consider themselves "independent", that means their ranks are underrepresented.
Other examples of disparate treatment for independents or favored status for major party candidates within the Code include:
- § 24.2-101 where "party" or "political party" are defined as and organization that received at least 10 percent of the total vote cast for any statewide office filled in each of the two preceding elections.
- § 24.2-505, "Declaration of candidacy required of independent candidates" that begins, "Any person, other than a candidate for a party nomination or a party nominee ..."
- § 24.2-506, "Petition of qualified voters required; number of signatures required" which again uses the phrase "other than a party nominee"
- § 24.2-613, "Form of ballot" in which independents are afforded second-class status and their "names shall be placed on the ballot after the political parties and recognized political parties"
My Delegate's message was clear: independents need not apply. Your views and votes don't matter, and we're going to do our damnedest to keep you on the sidelines. As an independent my retort is: no favoritism, no special treatment – for anyone or any group. In fact Section 4 of the Constitution of Virginia states: "That no man, or set of men, is entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community".
Utility guys usually get playing time because they can do a variety of jobs and perform in varied situations. Put me in Coach, I'm ready to play.