And in the process, he’s throwing the rest of the Republican Party under the bus.[read_more]
News has been percolating over the last couple of days about a scheme Speaker Howell hatched to get the State Board of Elections to change their rules for requirements to get an absentee ballot. According to sources in state government who were close to the matter, Howell lobbied the Democrat-controlled SBE to do something Democrats would love to have done on their own, but would never have gotten passed in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
On May 13, the State Board met and granted Howell’s wish: to allow people applying for an absentee ballot to do so electronically—with an electronic signature.
Now, that may not sound like much. But consider this. The absentee voting period started in April, so this change in the rules of the game came smack in the middle of the absentee voting period, when all the other campaigns around the state are invested in turning out absentee voters the old fashioned way: getting people to print and sign hard copy applications, and then either scanning and emailing them in, or mailing or hand delivering them.
Still, you say, isn’t making it easier to vote absentee a good thing? Maybe, maybe not. It could also conceivably lead to more voter fraud, but that’s really beside the point of this particular flex of political muscle and corrupt influence in Richmond. Why? Because the State Board made their decision effective immediately and didn’t bother to tell any candidate–other than Bill Howell–about their decision. It’s not on their website, it wasn’t sent to candidates via email, and no announcement or other public bulletin was made. This was effectively secret law written at the behest of the state’s most powerful politician to give him an advantage over his primary opponent.
Once he got the decision he wanted, Howell immediately launched a well-engineered web portal to allow people to just visit his site, provide some information, and PRESTO! The campaign takes care of the rest, skipping one of the most arduous steps in the absentee process (getting individual voters to fill out and sign a physical copy of the application).
How many ways was this hidden rulemaking improper?
- The State Board changed rules on the mechanics of electioneering in the middle of an election. If they even had the authority to make this change (which they likely didn’t), it should have been made effective for the next election, not the current one!
- Not only that, they didn’t tell anyone about it…except the state’s most powerful politician.
- What the State Board did probably exceeds their authority. They claimed that they were acting pursuant to the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, but members of the General Assembly are livid. They believe UETA does not apply, and that only the General Assembly can change participation requirements when it comes to any facet of elections in Virginia. However, with the Speaker of the House aligned with the Attorney General, they have very little to worry about politically.
- Further, Republican leaders to whom The Bull Elephant has spoken, including members of both houses of the General Assembly, are furious at this move as not only does it encroach on their authority, it also gives Democrats a huge additional advantage based on their lead in voter data and online engagement. Not only is every Senator and Delegate candidate running in a contested seat now probably in a tougher race, but our GOP presidential nominee next year will likely face the same added difficulties.
- The only way to fix this is by lawsuit, as there is no way Republicans could override a veto from Terry McAuliffe to restore the statutory rules. RPV needs to get on this right away to protect the integrity of a Republican nomination process, and to protect the integrity of the electoral process in general.
Bill Howell is running for reelection by telling people all about his “proven conservative leadership.” Someone who pulls this kind of stunt doesn’t even know what the word conservative means. Howell should be ashamed of himself. He’s damaged the whole rest of his party with a corrupt exercise of power, all to save his own skin.
This is how you cheat in an election without having to go to jail. Step 1: be the Speaker of the House. Step 2: secretly get the election rules changed in the middle of an election (bypassing the legislature) and don’t tell anyone. Step 3: exert your power and influence to intimidate into silence anyone who might challenge you on it. (This will be where the WaPo comes in with a great cover story for Bill)
It’s not going to work this time. The fact that Bill Howell apparently thinks he needs to cheat to win confirms that he’s vulnerable, and that despite hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of slick mailers, conservatives in his district are rejecting his lies. They’re turning to Susan Stimpson instead.
All this just proves what many of us have known for a long time. Bill Howell is in this for his own power, and will stop at nothing to keep it.