Virginia House candidates who win in November won’t know if they’ll serve one or two-year terms until after election

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House speaker Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, at rostrum, listen as House majority leader, Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, on monitor, speaks in an empty Virginia House of Delegates chamber during a Zoom Legislative session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The winners of the upcoming Virginia House races won’t know how long their terms will be until after Election Day.

A federal judge overseeing a case challenging the state’s decision to hold Virginia House elections with outdated political maps set a hearing for the case after the Nov. 2 elections, all but assuring the winners won’t know whether they will only serve one-year terms or full, two-year terms when their victories are announced.

Richmond attorney Paul Goldman filed the lawsuit against the state for continuing with this year’s House of Delegates elections using districts not updated with new census data. On Tuesday, a federal judge set a tentative schedule that leaves key questions unanswered until after polls close.

“As you know, I believe the right to vote includes a right to know the length of the term before Election Day. That’s why I sued in June,” Goldman wrote in a text to 8News after the hearing. “But at least voters might now know the length of the term is in doubt. That’s at least some notice.” 

Goldman, a former Democratic Party of Virginia chairman, wants the court to order the state delegates who win in November to serve one-year terms and force Virginia to hold another election in 2022 with new state legislative maps that reflect the population shifts over the last decade. 

The lawsuit, which names Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia State Board of Elections as plaintiffs, alleges that using the existing districts would violate the state and federal constitutions.

In a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge David J. Novak dismissed Goldman’s claims against Northam, the board and those citing violations in Virginia’s constitution.

Novak agreed with the attorney general’s office, which is representing the state, that Northam and the State Board of Elections are protected from such lawsuits because the governor has no special role in the electoral process and the board operates as “an arm of the state.”

But Novak did allow the case against the individual members of the State Board of Elections and Virginia’s Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper to move forward, writing in an opinion that they “facilitate the state’s elections” even though they don’t draw legislative maps or set elections.

“He [Novak] allowed me to sue the top state election officials in their representative capacities. Big win,” Goldman told 8News. “I expect the AG to appeal.” 

Novak issued an order laying out a tentative schedule for the case with two potential hearings to be held after the Nov. 2 elections. A hearing has been set for Nov. 8 if the government files a renewed motion to dismiss the case. The judge also scheduled a Dec. 3 hearing before a three-judge panel.

With Virginia House elections set for every two years, the commonwealth could have three straight years of House contests if Goldman is successful. Census delays brought on by the pandemic ensured that the existing legislative maps created with 2010 population data would be used for this year’s elections, but the election in 2022 would use redrawn districts once they are finished.

Virginians will pick a new governor, lieutenant governor and possibly a new attorney general in the Nov. 2 elections. All 100 House seats and certain local races are also on the ballot this year. Early voting is already underway in Virginia.

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