The Washington Post

Polls open in Virginia for four special elections; one Northern Va. seat at stake

In one of four special elections Tuesday, Virginia voters will select the next state delegate for the 48th district. Running for election are Republican David M. Foster, left, and Democrat Richard "Rip" Sullivan. ( Foster for Delegate and Sullivan for Delegate)

Virginia voters are casting ballots Tuesday in four special elections, including three races for open seats in the General Assembly and a town council election in central Virginia where new voter identification requirements will be in place for the first time.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m.

The election for the 48th District in the House of Delegates pits Richard “Rip” Sullivan (D) against David M. Foster (R) for the remainder of a term vacated by former delegate Robert Brink (D).

As a Republican, Foster is considered the underdog in the
Democratic-leaning legislative district, which includes Arlington and parts of McLean.

Both Sullivan and Foster have pledged to fight for more money for schools and transportation, but they largely disagree on other issues, including abortion, Medicaid expansion and gun control. Foster hopes his opposition to the $333 million Columbia Pike streetcar project strikes a chord with voters. Sullivan believes he aligns more closely with voters on a broader range of issues.

Former Virginia state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, shown at the state capitol in Richmond on Feb. 7, resigned in June, leaving his district open to a potential Republican takeover in Tuesday’s special election. (Bob Brown/Associated Press)

The outcome of the race will not alter GOP dominance in the House, where Republicans hold 68 of 100 seats. But in rural southwest Virginia, the outcome of the race for the state Senate seat formerly held by Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) has broad statewide consequences.

Puckett caused a firestorm when he resigned in June from the 38th District seat — just in time to shift control of the evenly divided Senate to Republicans and weaken Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s chances of expanding Medicaid to 400,000 uninsured Virginians.

Puckett was the only Democratic state lawmaker representing any district west of Roanoke. The Republican vying to replace him, Del. A. Benton Chafin Jr. , is widely favored to defeat Democrat Mike Hymes. A Chafin win would cement GOP control of the Senate, 21 to 19.

When Puckett resigned, he was considering a job that had been arranged for him at the GOP-controlled Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission. But after the deal became public, Puckett withdrew his interest. He said there was no quid pro quo, but federal investigators are looking into the situation.

The race for a seat on the Farmville Town Council will also be watched closely across the state, but for entirely different reasons. The election will be the first requiring voters to follow the state’s new photo identification law, which went into effect on July 1.

Because they were scheduled before July 1, Tuesday’s three legislative races will be governed by the past law, which required voters to present ID but not a photo. The new regulation will apply to all races in the Nov. 4 general election.

Three watchdog groups — Virginia New Majority, the League of Women Voters and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law — will observe voting in Farmville.

Democrats, who in general say stricter identification laws are part of a GOP strategy to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, college students and the poor, have also argued that the new regulation could confuse voters on Tuesday. Republicans say the old law was too lax and did not combat voter fraud.

Department of Elections spokeswoman Rose Mansfield said voters should cast provisional ballots at their polling places if there’s any doubt about the validity of their ID or eligibility. She said anyone with questions should call 804-864-8901 or 800-552-9745, or e-mail

The fourth race is in Hampton Roads, where Joseph C. Lindsey (D) faces Marcus A. Calabrese (R) for the 90th District seat in the House. The two are vying to replace former delegate Algie T. Howell Jr. (D), who announced his resignation last month.

Jenna Portnoy covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.



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