Too little time to consider special Senate election

Published 11:30 am Thursday, December 1, 2016

If you want to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Tom Garrett, R-Buckingham, you better hurry.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe, in ordering a special election on Jan. 10 to fill Garrett’s unexpired Senate term, gave prospective candidates less than a week to gather their signatures and file qualifying papers. That deadline — 5 p.m. Monday — is fine for establishment Democrats and Republicans, who’ve been contemplating the vacancy ever since Garrett declared his candidacy for the congressional seat of retiring U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt many months ago.

It’s insufficient for party outsiders and independents who might have interest in the seat. And it’s unhealthy for our democracy, which is at its best when voters have lots of choices.

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Democrats and Republicans will anoint their preferred candidates at gatherings this weekend. At least one independent — Prince Edward native son Joe Hines — sniffed out the opportunity and says he’s on track to get the required signatures by Monday. Good for Joe, as Prince Edward sorely needs resident representation in the General Assembly. Many other prospective candidates will undoubtedly deem the turnaround time too short to mount a campaign.

While we understand the need to get Garrett’s seat filled in time for the 2017 legislative session, ordering a special election and giving candidates less than a week to qualify smacks of a move calculated to help party insiders on both sides of the aisle.

That’s the same group to whom voters issued a stinging rebuke last month with the election of Donald Trump, the ultimate outsider, as president of the United States. Grassroots Americans are tired of a political system stacked in favor of party elites. Our democracy needs more participation — and rules that encourage that participation, rather than stifle it.