When first elected to the State Legislature in 1991, Falls Church/McLean Delegate Jim Scott won after a recount by a single vote. Since then, he’s always been known as “Landslide Jim.”
Scott reminded the audience gathered at the Falls Church Community Center of this last Saturday when asked to comment about legislation that would require a now-absent “paper trail” on voting machines in Virginia.
Bills introduced in Richmond this month by Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis and Del. Tim Hugo, both Republicans from Northern Virginia, would require the use of “optical scanner” voting machines statewide, and random audits before certification.
They are part of a growing, popular nationwide movement away from balloting using solely computers that many citizens worry are subject to tampering that can’t be caught. The Virginia legislature voted to move to computerized voting earlier this decade.
Ironically, this was done despite the fact that a special commission set up after the election debacle in Florida in 2000 determined that the most accurate voting machines are “optical scanners.” The City of Falls Church was utilizing “optical scanner” machines until the Virginia legislature mandated a move to computer-only models two years ago.
A spokesman from the Verifiable Voting Coalition of Virginia queried Scott and State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple about their views of the pending new legislation at Saturday’s meeting. Both said they were not completely familiar with the bills, S.B. 840 and H.B. 2707.
“There is a problem we need to solve,” Scott said. “We need some kind of a paper trail.”
Scott and Whipple both stressed that transportation is the key item of the current legislative session, a so-called “short session” expected to last only until the end of February. They said that the threat of negative electoral consequences in November is compelling some previously-stubborn Republicans to the negotiating table.
Proposals with bi-partisan support for statewide funding of transportation, and focusing on improvements in Northern Virginia and the Tidewater area, are now before both the House and Senate. There is a separate bill that includes a separate funding stream for Metro.
But, Scott pointed out, the state budget is currently out of balance by almost exactly the $130 million in tax revenues it lost with the Republican-pushed elimination of the estate tax. Scott said that measure benefited about 800 families.
Whipple is a major player in another big push in Richmond that is underway in the area of affordable housing. A number of bills she has introduced focus different options for funding the state’s Housing Trust Fund, on top of the $2 million that Gov. Tim Kaine included for it in his budget. One would put a two-cent tax on the existing recordation tax. Another calls for designating 10 percent of the Water Quality Improvement Fund balance at year’s end for transfer to the Housing Fund.
Two studies are currently underway, Whipple said, by the Northern Virginia Alliance for Housing, on strategies for state incentives for affordable housing and for providing more flexibility to local governments to encourage it.
Also, she said, the legislature is preparing to pass an increase in the minimum wage, parroting a similar bill on the federal level. “We’ll pass it just in case it runs into a snag in Washington,” Whipple said.
She said she’s also pushing hard for increasing the role of renewable energy in Virginia. She and Scott spoke of the move expected to re-regulate Virginia’s electrical power industry, noting that relatively low costs of energy in recent years made it prohibitive for competitors to Dominion Power to get any traction here.
But with re-regulation the state can mandate targets for increasing the percentage of energy production derived from renewable or non-fossil fuel sources, as well as targets for reducing demand. She noted in this context that nuclear power is “much more in favor” these days because it is cheap and less-polluting. She added that Dominion Power wants the oversight of re-regulation in the hands of the state legislature, but that she would prefer it be in the hands of the State Corporation Commission, as it was prior to deregulation.