Why You Couldn’t Vote for Sheriff Mosier AND Me

Many of you got up on Tuesday to do your civic duty and got a surprise: You could vote in Sheriff Mosier’s race or my race, but not both. You were forced to vote only along party lines. Several dozen people contacted me frustrated that they were not permitted to vote for me and Sheriff Mosier.

I share your frustration. This current voting situation is an example of old-school binary thinking resulting in lower voter turnout. This practice hurts our political process.

When you arrived at the polls, you were given a choice: the Democratic OR Republican ballot. In a primary election in Virginia, if you really like one candidate from the Democrats and one candidate from the Republicans, you can only vote for one of them. This is not true in other states.

Why is this the case?

  1. Primary elections are not constitutionally mandated. You do not have a constitutional right as an American or Virginian to vote in a primary election, you do have the right to vote in the general election;
  2. Imbalance of partisan politics. Because parties control the primaries, they decide the rules and how candidates get nominated;
  3. In Virginia the rule the parties have agreed to is that you have to choose one party primary (not the candidate).

None of this is fundamentally wrong. We have the right and freedom to form political parties. Political parties stripped of all rhetoric are essentially private clubs, large private clubs but still private. As of today, we rely on the parties to pick candidates. This sounds reasonable but here’s the rub … let’s take Sheriff Mosier as an example. Sheriff Mosier won the Republican nomination on Tuesday. In November, he will face… no one. That’s right no Democrat or Independent signed up to run. Regardless of how you feel about Sheriff Mosier, the primary has ensured he will be Fauquier’s sheriff for the next four years. In this case, which is happening with accelerated frequency, our constitutional right to vote has become an anointment process. This is not a reflection on Sheriff Moiser. It is one of the dangers of “safe” partisan districts.

A district is considered “safe” if it usually votes for one party by a wide margin. In District 18 that margin is about 60/40 Republican. For context, most districts in America, state or congressional, are “safe.” What that means on a practical level is the Democratic or Republican nomination process is essentially the election. This is why the “D” and the “R” next to the candidate’s name on the ballot has such high value. One by-product of this system is most areas are abandoned by one party while small battleground areas get the most attention, the most money, and the most time.

Despite the hype of the 24 hour news cycle, most of American politics takes place in primary elections run by private clubs. Parties can literally choose any method they want for the primary. If they wanted to hold a singing contest to determine their nominee they could. Only the election in November is guaranteed by our constitution.

Our political system is broken. Us regular citizens need to know our rights – what they are and what they are not. I’m committed to making real change happen and will continue to speak and write on topics like this. Thanks for reading. Please share.

—Tristan