Ballot cloggers: Couric's bill leads amendments

It's a pretty serious matter to change the state constitution, and unwitting Virginia voters will be asked to do just that when they go to the polls November 2.

Unwitting because the presidential election has so dominated the media that many voters will be surprised to see two arcane amendments on the ballot when they step behind the curtain. The additional choices may confuse– and certainly slow– the hordes of eager voters on Election Day who have to try to figure out what the heck these two amendments are about.

"Both are very difficult to understand," says Charlottesville Registrar Sheri Iachetta. "They haven't been well publicized."

Proposed amendment number one deals with– yawn– apportionment, and it's written in eye-glazing legalese.

Dubbed variously "Emily's Amendment" or the "Creigh Deeds Bill," it aims to address a situation that can occur once every 10 years when the state is redistricted in the wake of the census. The problem came up in 2001 when Deeds ran for the late Emily Couric's seat, only to find it had been redistricted. "It leaves people disenfranchised," says Deeds.

Even Republican Rob Bell calls the amendment a good idea. "Greene County got taken out of Emily Couric's 25th District and didn't have an elected representative until the next election," he says.

The other amendment lengthens the line of succession in the event of a sweeping catastrophe that wipes out the governor, lieutenant governor, the attorney general, and the speaker of the House.

Delegate Mitch Van Yahres fully concedes it's reactionary– but says it's necessary in the post 9/11 world.

And Bell says, "In the event of a catastrophic event, someone has to pick up the line of succession."

The succession amendment actually has drawn some opposition. "Perhaps it's a bit of an alarmist measure," says Jefferson Area Libertarian chair Arin Sime. "I see no reason we can't count on the General Assembly to convene."

The amendment adds three new positions to the line of succession– the person designated by the House of Delegates to succeed the speaker, the president pro tempore of the Senate, and the majority leader of the Senate.

Sime believes that makes the interim governor less accountable. "During a terrorist situation, I'd want a strong leader, not some mid-level delegate who's jury-rigged his name into 12th on the list."

As for the voters, they're likely to pass the amendments whether they understand them or not. "Usually there's no problem passing constitutional amendments," notes Van Yahres.