The Democratic majority leader of the Virginia Senate has proposed legislation that would transfer control of the boards that run state and local elections from the Republican to the Democratic Party.
The bill proposed by Adelard L. Brault (D-Fairfax) raised an immediate partisan outburst in the 1978 legislative session, now in its second day. Innocuously worded, it requires that a majority party in the legislature boards be members of the majority party in the legislature rather than the party of the governor. The Virginia legislature has 26 Republicans among its 140 members. The governor is a Republican.
The Republican domination of electoral boards throughout the state has been a source of great irritation to the Democrats ever since 1969 when Linwood Holton, the first Republican governor since Reconstruction, was elected. Before that, the Democrats had controlled both the legislature and the governorship throughout this century.
Brault said in 1976 the Republican registrar in Fairfax County refused a request from local Democrats for voter registration in shopping centers and apartments via mobile van. Last year the Fairfax board again refused to allow registration in regional shopping centers.
"I don't want to accuse that board of refusing just because it was the chairperson of the Fairfax County Democratic committee who was asking," Brault said, "but . . ."
Brault said he introduced his electoral board bill on the first day of business because he thinks there is a good chance to override the veto before the 60-day session ends.
Dalton, during a 14-minute visit to the Republican caucus this morning, said that he thought that proposing such a political bill was not an appropriate way to start off legislative relations with a new governor.
"I was disappointed to see in the paper this morning that some people were coming here with the idea of changing election laws strictly for partisan considerations," Dalton said.
Senate Minority Leader WIlliam A. Truban said he saw no reason to change the composition of electoral boards. "I thought we'd start the session off by doing something the people of Virginia need instead of getting into political rimrows," he said.
"What's the problems with the electoral board? They're doing the best job Virginia has ever had . . .Maybe it's music-flexing on the part of the Democrats," he said.
Truban pointed out that not only are the new governor and attorney general Republicans, but so are six of the 10 congressmen and one of the two U.S. senators. "The commonwealth has been voting this (Republican) philosophy for years," he said.
"Electoral boards administer the election laws," Brault said, "there is nothing more political than that. I expected him (Dalton) to say something like that."
Local electoral boards are appointed by circuit court judges in the ratio of two members of the governor's party to one of the opposition.
"This year there's a Republican (governor) again," Brault said. "So the time had come to do something about this because the dominant political party in Virginia is the Democratic Party. If it wasn't, the majority in both Houses wouldn't be so large." However, state Democrats have not elected a senator or governor since 1966.
All 34 of Brault's fellow Democrats in the Senate have cosigned his bill.
In other action today, about a dozen senators spent over an hour complaining about problems in their new offices at a meeting attended by the chief engineer, architect, and interior decorator on the new office project.
"I'm not going to sit in the sauna bath," said Sen. Peter K. Babalas (D-Norfold), referring to heating problems in his new quarters. "There's no way I can open those windows and I'm not going into the iguana business."
Sen. Willard J. Moody (D-Portsmouth), chairman of the Rules Committee which receives many of the complaints, said he had been unable to unlock his office this morning. Other senators complained that their telephones were hooked up on bookcases instead of desks, that senators who wanted to exchange furniture couldn't get some of it out of the door because it had been assembled inside, and that electrical cables were a safety hazard.
"When I pick up my phone there are people talking on it - I don't know who they are," said Moody.
"One senator who is very tall cannot sit at his desk because his knees hit the top. He wants to bring in his old desk." said Senate clerk Jay Shropshire.
"Couldn't we put some blocks under his desk?" said Sen, Omer Hirst (D-Fairfax.)
The General Assembly voted in 1973 to acquire a building and refurbish it for offices at a cost of over $16 million. Until this year legislators have been using cramped offices in a near by building.