Virginia sets the tone for 2020, flipping both chambers of state legislature Democratic
BY ABIGAIL ADCOX, NEWS EDITOR
For the first time in 26 years, Virginia Democrats gained control of both chambers of the state legislature. All 140 legislative seats were on the ballot in Tuesday’s election.
Republicans held a narrow majority going into the Nov. 5 election, but their hope of holding onto their current seats or gaining more quickly diminished.
The usually overshadowed school board elections came into the spotlight after Abrar Omeish won a spot on the Fairfax County School Board.
Omeish, 24, became both the youngest person and the first Muslim woman to hold elected office in Virginia.
Democratic-backed candidates also took full control of the Fairfax County School Board.
At Mason, students who were registered to vote on campus voted in Merten Hall. A “Party at the Polls” event was held outside on the walkway, where various partners, including Student Government, Mason Votes, and politically active student groups, offered breakfast and coffee, as well as conducted an exit survey. Several local candidates on the ballot, including Priscilla DeStefano, James Walkinshaw and Chap Petersen, made in-person appearances.
The exit survey, which was completed by over 100 students, overwhelmingly showed that students preferred Democratic candidates, going along with similar trends in recent elections.
For the Virginia House of Delegates 34th seat, 84 percent of Mason voters said they voted for Democrat-backed David L. Bulova.
When asked to share who she decided to vote for in Tuesday’s election, Mandana Ravanpak, a sophomore, laughed, “We go to a very Democratic university, so I’ll just leave it at that.”
Olga Diupina, a George Mason Democrats member, expressed the importance of the election.
“It’s very important to flip the house and senate this year,” Diupina said. “It will change the course that Virginia will go for years to come on health care, gun reform [and] women’s rights issues … so we need to make sure our voices are represented and heard.”
The exit survey showed that the most important issue to Mason voters was civil rights, with 20 percent of respondents citing that. Other issues that ranked high to students were: health care (16 percent), environment (16 percent), economy and jobs (10 percent), gun control (9 percent) and higher education (9 percent).
Leading up to the election, voter registration issues plagued Mason students.
Shane Martin, chair of the Government & Community Relations committee for Student Government (SG) and a senior, explained the situation in detail: “[Student Government], along with a lot of other organizations, did voter registration events.”
He continued, “The requirements changed over the past year but many … [people registering students] were not informed. Everybody was being registered to what they believed was how they needed to fill [the application] out. People used a generic campus address rather than their dorm, their specific dorm address. The registrar denied those registrations.”
The Fairfax County registrar rejected 171 registration applications, in turn making those students ineligible to vote in the Nov. 5 election. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a civil rights group, challenged the issue in court and argued that the registrar should have sent a request of information instead of a “notice of rejection.”
The matter resulted in the registrar’s office moving the initial Oct. 26 deadline back to Nov. 2.
An email sent out by George Mason University Housing on Oct. 24 instructed students to check their registration status and to make the changes, if needed, in order to vote.
Newly-elected members of the state legislature will be given the task of redrawing the map after the 2020 census, which could have the ability to shape future elections.
Martin further argued the importance of civic engagement, especially amongst younger voters.
According to the United States Census Bureau, among 18-to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group — a 79 percent jump.
“I think that being civically engaged, especially for students, is incredibly important. Voter turnout among younger people is nowhere near what it could and should be,” Martin said.