Initiative & Referendum Rights for Virginians
A couple of weeks ago we interviewed Virginia citizens outside a townhall in Reston, VA. There was a lot of support from both sides of the aisle for bringing the process to the state and giving citizens more of a voice. So why don’t Virginia citizens have initiative & referendum rights? Let’s take a look at the history…
While the Populist call for “more democracy” was gaining strength throughout most of the nation, Virginia’s ruling Democratic Party was giving its citizens less democracy. In May 1901, voters elected 100 delegates to a state constitutional convention, 89 of them Democrats. The new constitution they approved included a poll tax and a literacy test, both designed to prevent poor whites and blacks from voting. The delegates did not even submit the new constitution to the voters for ratification, having it take effect instead “by [their own] proclamation.” In this context, it is surprising not that Virginia’s Progressives failed to amend their state constitution to include I&R, but that they even tried.
The Progressives’ hopes for a statewide I&R amendment ran highest in 1914, when state Attorney General John Garland Pollard was elected president of the newly formed Progressive Democratic League, which included I&R on its reform agenda. That same year the House of Delegates approved an I&R amendment by a lopsided 64 to 24 vote, but the measure died in the senate.
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