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Meet the VA Delegate Who Wants to Give Voters Direct Democracy and Nonpartisan Primaries

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published

Virginia Delegate Sam Rasoul is no stranger to election reform. He has championed a number of legislative efforts to improve elections in the past, and has introduced a new package of election reforms for the upcoming legislative session.

Rasoul has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since January 2014, and represents the 11th District, which makes up a part of Roanoke. He is the only Muslim member of the Virginia General Assembly.

His latest proposed reforms include the creation of a new gerrymandering commission, lowering the age for voter registration and voting in local elections, and public finance reform, and reforming the referendum and ballot initiative process.

“Over the past two election cycles, I think it is clear that our election process needs to be reformed,” said Delegate Rasoul. “As a Delegate, I represent the people who put me in office. I feel it is my duty to ensure there is fairness in the election process and that we keep the power in the hands of the people.”

In an interview for IVN, he said, "The American people and Virginians want to believe in a better process and this package will instill trust" in how the state conducts elections. He added that any reform that will improve elections should be pursued.

Here are the 4 bills in the package:

Public Financing of Campaigns (HB 275): The bill would create a voluntary program for administering public funds to qualified candidates campaigning for elected office.

Ending Gerrymandering (HB 276): The bill establishes a 7-member Virginia Interim Redistricting Commission. The commission would be tasked with finding a redistricting remedy when any congressional or state legislative district is declared unlawful or unconstitutional.

Direct Democracy (HJ 34): The bill would reform the ballot initiative and referendum process to allow people to propose and enact laws and constitutional amendments by ballot initiative, to reject legislative measures by referendum, and to remove elected officials by recall.

Lowering Voting Age (HJ 33): The bill would allow citizens 16 years of age or older to register to vote and vote in local elections.

Delegate Rasoul also previously proposed legislation that would enact a nonpartisan, top-two open primary for state and congressional elections -- a system similar to California and Washington state.

“In Virginia, we want to start a critical conversation about just how democratic our process is, especially when 90 percent of legislators are only concerned with the primary electorate and how that really alienates the vast majority of voters in the general electorate. I think public primaries are an important piece of that,” said Rasoul in a previous interview for IVN.

During a phone conversation, Delegate Rasoul told me he would be re-introducing nonpartisan open primary reform in the new session, along with automatic voter registration.

The Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday, January 10.

Photo Source: AP

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