The ink is hardly dry on the ballots in Virginia's gubernational election, and the long-suffering voters of this state are already being besieged by candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. These hopefuls are merely the newest participants in one of the longest continuous political campaigns in the country. Virginia, alas, has a permanent campaign, thanks to an electoral cycle that features a major election every single year. Here, for example, is the bill of fare Virginians can look forward to in the next four years:
* 1982--Elections for U.S. senator and 10 members of the U.S. House of Representatives; special election for 100 members of the House of Delegates.
* 1983--Elections for 100 members of the House of Delegates (tentative) and 40 members of the state senate.
* 1984--Elections of president, U.S. senator and 10 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
* 1985--Elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and 100 members of the House of Delegates.
And this list doesn't include local elections, referendums, bond issues, constitutional officers, primaries, conventions, caucuses and all manner of special elections. Is it any wonder many Virginians are sick of politics?
Not even the politicians can keep up with this state's electoral pace. Virginia is one of only five states--the others are New Jersey, Louisiana, Kentucky and Mississippi--that insist on scheduling all major state elections in odd- numbered years. The other 45 states have a much more rational system: State elections are consolidated either with presidential or off-year congressional elections (usually the latter). The advantages for the voter, the candidate and the parties are significant:
* The Virginia Voter would benefit the most. He or she would get the chance to sift and absorb the results of one election before another commences. The voter might even be more likely to cast a ballot since elections would be rarer and thus would probably appear more significant. Most important, the voter would get a respite, however brief, from campaign polls, television commercials, political consultants and partisan exhortations.
* The Virginia Candidate is suffering from severe battle fatigue and confusion. The battle fatigue comes from the constant warring of parties and factions. The confusion comes from overlapping campaigns. The campaigning for governor was in full swing during last year's presidential contest, for instance, and next year's Senate battle overshadowed this year's governor's race on occasion.
* The Political Parties are as battle-fatigued as their candidates. That is at least part of the explanation for the role reversal that occurred at this year's party conventions, where the Democrats acted like Republicans and the Republicans like Democrats (perhaps presaging the election results). Virginia's frenzied electoral itinerary also has exhausted party workers. Volunteers have the right to expect some occasional relief from envelope- stuffing.
The Byrd organization is partly responsible for perpetuating Virginia's off-year electoral cycle. The machine wanted the state Democratic Party insulated from the possible coattail effects of national elections, when Virginians were often likely to vote for Republican standard-bearers more conservative than the national Democratic Party's nominees. In the machine's defense, the odd election cycle wasn't nearly as bad back then. First of all, a small proportion of the population was qualified to vote, so elections were more like family gatherings or club outings. Moreover, since the winner was usually preordained, even a qualified voter didn't have to bother much about it all.
But times have changed, and a mass electorate and strong two-party competition have combined with Virginia's strange electoral schedule to produce a campaign thicket, overgrown with candidates and campaigns. Gov.-elect Charles Robb should propose a constitutional amendment to consolidate state and national elections. The gubernatorial term set to begin in January 1986 should be lengthened by one year, so that the following election for governor would be held in 1990 instead of 1989. Similarly, state senators and delegates elected in 1987 would serve an extra year beyond the normal expiration of their four-or two-year terms. This one-time-only "bonus year" for all state legislators would certainly make the plan attractive to the General Assembly, which would have to pass the constitutional amendment twice (in two sessions separated by an election).
For too many years in a row, the cry in Virginia has been, "Long live the campaign." It's time to change that. Bring on some relief, Gov.-elect Robb -- and free the Virginia 5 million!