Virginia primaries

What do students need to know about the primaries?


Karenna Keane

Did You Know?

On Tuesday, June 21, Virginia will hold its Democratic Party primary election. In Arlington, this means a choice between a long-time representative of Virginia’s eighth congressional district, Don Beyer, and native Arlingtonian Victoria Virasingh, 30.

“My parents are both immigrants. My mom is from Ecuador, my dad was born to Indian refugees in Thailand and they met in Ballston,” Virasingh said. “They worked minimum wage jobs, my mom is a manicurist and my dad held a number of different jobs, mostly retail, and we struggled. It was tough to make it to the end of a month, the end of a pay cycle. I was the first in my family to go to college; I got a full ride to Stanford… When I came back home to Arlington, I started getting involved… I became really active in local politics and I realized if I was born today, under the circumstances that I had grown up in, my story wouldn’t be possible.” 

Virasingh is passionate about raising the minimum wage and promoting affordable housing opportunities, which she said are less available now than when she was growing up in the 1980s-90s. Another one of her passions, and a centerpiece of her campaign, is climate change.

“There’s low-hanging fruit,” Virasingh said. “I think we have to approach [climate change], we have to set aggressive goals. I think a just transition is really important so that the burden and cost of moving towards a more green community aren’t disproportionately placed on communities of color and low-income communities.”

At the federal level, Virasingh supports tax subsidies for solar and waste management in order to aid the transition to renewable energy. Long before candidates get into office, however, there are steps that need to be taken to get on the ballot. Virasingh and other volunteers spent time collecting more than 1000 handwritten signatures from registered voters in Virginia’s eighth district. The signing did not confirm support, it simply showed a willingness to give her a shot. Furthermore, a certified check of $3,480 must be hand-delivered to the Board of Elections in order to demonstrate the validity of a campaign. A receipt from that transaction must be submitted with the signatures. Despite Virasingh’s request, signatures could not be collected electronically, even during the pandemic.

“[These regulations are] why we need representation that’s younger, this is why you need representation that understands technology because we have to modernize our process,” Virasingh said. “An economic barrier like paying $3,480 just to get your name on the ballot is a barrier that prevents working-class candidates and first-time candidates, candidates that don’t come from money, from getting on the ballot. That’s not what democracy should look like.”

On the campaign trail, much of Virasingh’s time is spent raising money and speaking with potential supporters. She also spends time with various community groups. For instance, she participated in a disability tour. There, she was taken along by disabilities activists through a route full of day-to-day activities, such as getting on a bus, while in a wheelchair.  This allowed for a firsthand experience of what many in the community experience.

“I get asked a lot, ‘What’s your experience? Where is your political resume?’ and I think the career ‘politician’ doesn’t have the type of experience that we need in Congress,” Virasingh said. “We need people who have been on the ground, we need people who have worked in our schools. We need people who know what it’s like to be working and living today, who have recently graduated college.”

Virasingh is proud of the new perspective she would bring to Congress. Aside from being younger than previous representatives, she is also the second woman ever to be on the ballot in Virginia’s eighth district.

“I’d be the youngest to represent Virginia at a federal level. I’d be the first woman, I’d be the first Latina, the first Indian American,” Virasingh said. “In my lifetime, I’m about to turn 30 in May, and we’ve only had two representatives. They have both been white men over the age of 60 who also are millionaires and that’s not really representative of our community.”

In a district like Arlington, the primary election is often considered more important than the general. This is because Virginia’s eighth district is known as “D-plus 27” meaning that a strong majority of voters will vote for the Democratic Party in the general election. The question of which Democratic candidate it will be for becomes more relevant than which party will be elected. However, these elections typically have low voter turnout despite being key in determining the district’s representative. Furthermore, many voters have strong opinions, yet do not vote.

“One of the challenges in a primary race is that voters aren’t used to voting in June,” Virasingh said. “Turnout is less than ten percent in a district where we have a lot of really politically sophisticated [potential] voters. People care, they care about politics. Unfortunately, the average age of a primary voter is over 50… We’re trying to bring in younger voters, more diverse voters, into the political process.”

According to AP Government teacher Mr. Jarrod Hills, who one votes for in a primary can influence policy, even if the candidate does not win.

“CNN and all the other places will say that, ‘A vote for a third party is a wasted vote’…that’s not true,” Mr. Hills said. “A vote for a third party is sending a message that the two main parties are missing something that you think is important. By voting for someone other than a Biden or Trump or a Don Beyer, or whoever it may be, you’re sending the two major parties a message that they’re missing out on the electorate, that you care about whatever it is that you care about and they need to reconfigure what their goals are in order to win more votes.”

Early voting for the primary election begins May 6, and the deadline to register is May 31. Any student who will be 18 by the general election on November 8, 2022 (even if they are currently 17) is eligible and may register to vote in the primaries. Voting may require planning ahead, which could mean finding a break in one’s schedule or requesting an absentee ballot. These can be used to overcome what Mr. Hills referred to as the “speed bumps, not walls,” which often stop youth from voting.

“The youth vote could almost literally hand-deliver a person…if they actually were motivated to vote,” Mr. Hills said.

Recently, the League of Women Voters conducted a voter registration drive at the school, registering several hundred juniors and seniors to vote.

“I have to give credit to the school,” junior Jillian McLeod said. “I saw on Canvas that the League of Women Voters was going to be here during lunch for a couple of days registering voters and so I thought, ‘Oh! That makes it really easy for me, I can just go downstairs and all I need is my Social Security number.’… They gave me a form and I knew most of the information off the top of my head I gave them the form back and they gave me a receipt, and then I got my voter registration card in the mail a few weeks ago…it was really really easy.” 

Overall, Mr. Hills stands by his belief that voting is the most important way to influence the political events surrounding students’ lives. 

“Everybody’s got an opinion, but if you’re not voting, nobody cares,” Mr. Hills said. “You can protest all you want, hold up as many signs as you want, they’ll look at them, read them, and move on. [However,] if you protest, hold up signs, and then go vote you’re backing it up, that’s actually what makes the difference. Making a bunch of noise is cool, gets you a lot of attention; but if you’re not willing to make a lot of noise, and then stand silently, and put in a vote… Nothing is going to change… Just the act of [voting] is massive.”

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