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Virginia Journal of Education

On Point

Why I’m Running for Congress

By Chris Hailey

The Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a poll for the 227th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, and the results must surely send chills through every civics and government teacher in the land. It seems that only 36 percent of adults can identify the three branches of government created by that document. Ask which party controls the House of Representatives and Senate and the results are even worse. Anybody know the name of the chief justice of the Supreme Court? That would be John Roberts, named by an abysmal 15 percent of respondents.

When a pollster approaches my students in a few years, I hope they can still answer these questions, as I’m fairly certain they can now. Yet it’s clear that educating Americans about the government they elect has to be a permanent activity.

This is why I’m taking my teaching from the classroom to the voters of Virginia’s 1st Congressional District, running as a write-in candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

My non-partisan campaign is an attempt to educate voters about the dire need to reform the electoral system. If only 36 percent of Americans know the three branches of government, imagine how few understand the role of gerrymandering in our elections. The workings of the Electoral College are equally mysterious to most people, despite the fact that presidential elections draw the highest voter turnout of any American election. I’ve spent 30 years working to help my students become knowledgeable, productive and participatory citizens. Several of my former students are now my campaign staff, working to help bring the message of reform to voters of all ages. We agree that this election can be an important step in building awareness in Virginia of the crucial role we can all play in making democracy work better for all of us, no matter what our political orientation.

Our campaign has three core principles. One, we must make every vote meaningful by creating districts without regard to party advantage. Two, we should change the Electoral College to make the vote of every individual citizen matter in presidential elections. And three, while states are free to require identification to prevent fraud, the vote must be protected by providing all citizens with valid photo IDs. These common sense reforms would benefit all voters, not one political party.

Drawing electoral districts to give advantage to one party has a long and sordid history in the United States. The effect is that politicians choose their voters rather than voters choosing politicians. The practice is widespread in both Democratic and Republican majority states, and the party out of power always cries foul.

Virginia should reject the notion that incumbent protection is the highest goal of the electoral process. We need a non-partisan commission to draw districts that protect local communities of interest, make districts more compact, and reduce partisanship.

The Electoral College system creates an uneven playing field for voters. The political reality today is that no more than 10 states are truly in play. This makes the choices of individual voters essentially irrelevant in safely Democratic or Republican states, discouraging voters in both parties.

To remedy this, Virginia should immediately sign on to the National Popular Vote interstate compact, which commits participating states to casting their electoral votes for the national popular vote winner. This would take effect when there are enough states to equal the 270 electoral votes needed to win. Alternatively, a constitutional amendment could require electoral votes to be cast in proportion to the states’ popular votes. In either case, voters in every state must feel that they are casting a meaningful vote for president.

Every vote should matter, and every vote should be secure. If states wish to set photo ID requirements for voters, they should be at least as concerned about making sure that all citizens have easy access to a legal form of identification.

The Commonwealth of Virginia should immediately and proactively seek out citizens who need photo IDs, and provide them at no cost. Nationally, the Social Security Administration is uniquely suited to the task of providing IDs to eligible citizens, which should then be universally accepted as a form of identification for the purpose of voting. Though the cost would be substantial, it’s more than justified by the need to make our most vital right as citizens available and secure for all.

My campaign will not change the outcome of the race, given the heavy tilt toward the incumbent party in this district. My former students and I are committed to this process because we believe that making our system fairer, and more representative, is essential to the health of our democracy. Education about our system of government should never stop.

Hailey, a member of the Williamsburg/James City County Education Association, teaches government at Lafayette High School. Information about his campaign can be found at



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