It's Election Day! (and a look back at this day 100 years ago)

Today is Election Day, the most important day in the U.S. political calendar. If you live in Virginia, here is a handy link to the state Department of Elections webpage where you can determine where your polling place is and what’s on your ballot. And if you live in Richmond, remember that GRTC, Uber, and Lyft are all offering free rides to polling places today. Go forth and do your civic duty.

And for fun, a look back on Election Day 100 years ago—Nov. 5, 1918…

Virginia elections 1918.png

With the end of World War I a mere six days away (though naturally no one would know that at the time), voters in Virginia appear to have been somewhat distracted, with the elections for Congress in the commonwealth proving the “quietest on record.” All ten members of the state’s delegation were returned to their seats.

At the time, Virginia was a staunchly Democratic state: nine of its ten congressmen were Democrats; the only Republican, C. Bascom Slemp, represented the Ninth District, covering parts of southwestern Virginia. Note that the Tenth District representative, H. D. Flood (Henry De la Warr Flood), was the uncle of Harry Flood Byrd, the mastermind of massive resistance and the creator of the formidable Byrd machine that dominated Virginia for four decades.

Of the others elected, Carter Glass, who was first sent to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1902, is an interesting case. He later became a U.S. Senator and is memorialized in the Glass–Steagall Act (repealed 1999), which separated commercial and investment banking and established the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. He was also an inveterate racist. At the 1902 Virginia Constitutional Convention, he openly declared: “Discrimination! Why that is precisely what we propose; that, exactly, is what this convention was elected for — to discriminate to the very extremity of permissible action under the limitations of the Federal Constitution, with a view to the elimination of every Negro voter who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the numerical strength of the white electorate."

Just to put that in perspective: the restrictions that Glass helped force through in the 1902 Virginia Constitution (which included poll taxes, literacy tests and segregation of schools) would remain in place for literally decades, until the 1960s, when the Supreme Court and federal legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 overturned the state’s ability to take such measures.