RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Public support for new Virginia House of Delegates elections this year has grown over the last month, but voting rights advocates have questioned the reticence from state lawmakers and groups to get behind the push.

The Virginia League of Women Voters, the ACLU of Virginia, the Virginia NAACP and several of its local branches have all recently backed the calls for new elections using newly redrawn districts that reflect the population shifts over the last decade.

Local Democratic committees, including those in Fairfax County and Shenandoah County, have also come out in support of the 2022 House elections.

But the Democratic Party of Virginia has not weighed in on the effort, nor have any of the party caucuses in the House or state Senate.

“We should do it because it’s the right thing to do,” Dr. William Ferguson Reid, co-founder of the Richmond Crusade for Voters and the first Black member elected to the Virginia General Assembly in the 20th century, told 8News. “I’m disturbed that the state Democratic Party is not pushing it but I’m not surprised.”

Dr. Reid, 97, co-founded The Richmond Crusade for Voters in 1956 in opposition to Massive Resistance to get African American voters involved in elections and increase their voting strength. He served in the Virginia House from 1968 to 1973, representing the city of Richmond and Henrico.

“Once you get to the party leadership, the main effort is to raise money,” Reid said. “And a lot of people talk a good game. But every individual should get involved because people don’t realize they are the power. It’s their responsibility.”

While calls for new House elections have picked up, only one lawsuit challenging the 2021 elections has been filed in federal court. That case, filed by attorney Paul Goldman last June, is currently being challenged by the state in the Eastern District of Virginia on whether Goldman has legal standing to sue.

Goldman’s lawsuit argues that last fall’s House elections were held under unconstitutional districts and seeks to have the court set one-year terms for all 100 state delegates and force Virginia to hold another round of elections under the redrawn maps approved by the state’s Supreme Court. The 2021 House elections were held under maps using census data from 2011 after Virginia’s redistricting process was pushed back due to census delays in 2020.

If the courts ultimately side with Goldman, a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, the battle for control of the House of Delegates would be on the ballot three years in a row. But there could be another legal effort brewing from the Loudoun County NAACP.

The NAACP’s Loudoun branch wrote a letter to the courts seeking to join Goldman’s lawsuit, arguing the political maps used in 2021 “suppressed the vote, diluted the voices and diminished the representation” of its members and people of color within the county.

Rev. Michelle C. Thomas, president of the NAACP’s Loudoun branch, was in Richmond on March 21 when Goldman’s case went before the Eastern District of Virginia on the standing issue.

After the hearing, Thomas said people of color in Loudoun County are being denied their constitutional rights to a fair election and fair representation in the legislature by living in disproportionate districts.

“Loudoun County has its own issue of standing and every one of those voters have been disenfranchised and are grossly misrepresented,” Thomas said. “That’s why I drove all the way down to Richmond today.”

Thomas said the local branch is still weighing its options on filing a separate lawsuit, telling 8News it could be a possibility if Goldman’s suit is thrown out on legal standing, and will work with the Virginia NAACP and the national chapter of the NAACP on how to move forward.

Asked about the communication between the branch and the Loudoun County delegation in the General Assembly, Thomas said Monday: “It’s been radio silence.”

Thomas acknowledged that current lawmakers could be hesitant to speak on the push for new elections because of the position it could put them in, saying she understands that launching a campaign and resolving the issue of incumbent pairings would be a long upheaval. But she said the wide population deviations between districts limit voters’ representation in the General Assembly.

“Justice isn’t a matter of convenience, it’s a matter of principle. It’s why I’m here, to rise up and put the people first,” Thomas told 8News.

Del. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun) told 8News he would be “ready to run again” in 2022 if the courts order new elections but didn’t speak directly about the case, saying he didn’t know enough about the pending lawsuit to weigh in.

Goldman has argued that there is precedent in Virginia for three years straight of House elections after redistricting issues. In his lawsuit and in court, he has cited the federal court decision Cosner v. Dalton, which made way for House elections in 1981, 1982 and 1983.

Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), the longest-serving member of the House, was in the legislature at the time and said there are differences between then and now.

“In ’81, the issue was slightly different. The districts were wrong and needed to be redrawn. We went from having a five-member district to a three-member district to a one-member district,” Del. Plum told 8News. “In this instance, the courts, with special masters, drew the districts. The question is not the constitutionality of the current maps but who prescribes the election schedule for new members.”

Plum also questioned why there were calls for new House elections but not ones for the Virginia Senate, saying that state senators won’t run in elections under new districts until November 2023.

“It’s beyond the hands of the legislature, as it should be, and I don’t think it’s appropriate to lobby the judges in any way,” Plum said. He also wondered about how new elections would put candidates under a time crunch to file to run with the state’s Department of Elections and raise money for primaries ahead of November.

Goldman said Monday that he believes there’s enough time to have House elections this year, with primaries set for September, if the case moves forward and is decided by the summer.

Before the case was sent back to the Eastern District of Virginia, Del. Tim Anderson (R-Virginia Beach) said he felt House elections this year would be improbable due to the need for discovery, hearings and potential appeals. 

“There’s just no way. I’ve been practicing law for 22 years, I’ve never seen courts move in that kind of speed,” Del. Anderson, a lawyer who won his seat in 2021, told 8News. “I think what’s going to happen is we’re going to run out of time.”

Similar to Dels. Anderson, Subramanyam and others who spoke with 8News, Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William) said he would be prepared to run in case the courts order new House elections.

Del. Torian did not respond to criticism that lawmakers have not addressed Goldman’s argument that last year’s elections were held under unconstitutional districts, only saying that he felt it was “somewhat premature” to comment on a pending case.

8News reached out to the Democratic Party of Virginia, the Republican Party of Virginia, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), the ACLU of Virginia, the offices of every Democrat in the House of Delegates and several GOP lawmakers for interviews.

Only a handful of lawmakers were available, and most who spoke with 8News did not address Goldman’s case or share their views on the calls for new elections. The ACLU of Virginia, the state parties, the NDRC and most of the lawmakers did not respond to requests for interviews. A few lawmakers declined to comment.