LWV-VA Stands with All Those Who Grieve the Loss of George Floyd

Press Release: “

LWV-VA Stands with All Those Who Grieve the Loss of George Floyd

The League of Women Voters of Virginia stands with millions of Americans in grieving the senseless murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, and countless other Black lives at the hands of law enforcement officers. These past few weeks have served as a stark reminder of this country’s pervasive systems of oppression and inequality. It’s also worth noting that these protests come in the midst of a pandemic that is affecting African-American communities at a drastically disproportionate rate. 

 

Read the full release here: https://mailchi.mp/lwv-va/lwv-va-stands-with-protestors-2900137?e=570653d714

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JUDGE RULES IN FAVOR OF VIRGINIA VOTERS

Julia Tanner, LWV-VA Action

Ruling allows absentee voters to remain safe during COVID-19 pandemic

In a win for voting rights, a Lynchburg judge ruled today that absentee voters are relieved of the witness signature requirement for Virginia’s June 23 primaries. 

“We are pleased the court saw the pressing need for relief for Virginia voters,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, which brought legal action challenging the witness requirement during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Because of today’s decision, voters will be able to cast their ballots in safety without risking their health to locate a witness.”

Currently, Virginia voters choosing to vote absentee must open, mark, and refold their ballot in the presence of a witness, and then have the witness sign their ballot envelope. In light of COVID-19, this witness requirement would effectively bar many voters, including members of the League of Women Voters, from the ballot box, because the novel coronavirus is spread during close interpersonal contact. The witness rule jeopardized public health in exchange for access to voting, a pillar of our democracy.

Federal and state authorities support social distancing for public safety, including during elections. Virginia is under public health measures including a stay-at-home order and a self-quarantine recommendation for people over age 65. 

Judge Moon’s consent decree today accepts a settlement between the plaintiffs and Attorney General Mark Herring in connection with the June 23 primaries. As a result, voters in Virginia’s June primary election may return their absentee ballots without a witness signature if they believe they cannot safely have a witness present. 

Vishal Agraharkar, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Virginia, stated, “We applaud the court’s decision to approve this reasonable compromise for the June primary. The State Board of Elections should do the right thing and waive the witness requirement for all other elections affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this and every election, eligible voters deserve more opportunities to vote and have their ballots counted.”
 
“The court’s action preserves the right to vote for Virginians who cannot risk their health to obtain a witness signature in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Davin Rosborough, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “This settlement is a common-sense solution that protects both public health and democracy.”

“Today’s decision was the right call to protect Virginia voters’ health as well as their right to vote,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “As states around the country grapple with how to administer elections during the COVID pandemic, they should follow Virginia’s lead and put voters first.” 

The League of Women Voters commended Judge Moon’s decision and urged voters to promptly request their absentee ballots from the Virginia Department of Elections or VOTE411.

Other media:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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After Advocates Note Discrepancy with Federal Law, Virginia Moves Primary Voter Registration Deadline to May 26

LWV-VA Voter Services

Janet Boyd, LWV-VA, Voter Services
4/28/2020

Virginia citizens have an additional eight days to register to vote in this year’s primary election, thanks to voting advocates from Fair Elections Center and the League of Women Voters of Virginia, who noticed a discrepancy between the original May 18 deadline and federal law. Once the Commonwealth’s Commissioner of Elections was notified,  Gov. Ralph Northam  moved the registration deadline to May 26.  

As the groups noted in their letter, “the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)…  requires that voter registration applicants who submit valid applications postmarked or received by 30 days before a federal election must be registered in the election. For a June 23, 2020 election, voters must be allowed to register through and including Tuesday, May 26, 2020.”

“More voters tend to register as elections approach, so the NVRA serves as a backstop on lengthy deadlines that erect barriers to voter registration,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, senior counsel with Fair Elections Center. “We are appreciative that election officials and the governor responded quickly once we identified this inconsistency, so that voters have the opportunity to register on the timeframe guaranteed to them under federal law.”

“We were pleased to work cooperatively with the Commissioner of Elections on this issue,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. “The League works hard to make sure voters have the information they need to exercise their rights, and we look forward to informing our members and the public about the new deadline.”

As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis,  Gov. Northam exercised his authority to postpone this year’s primary, originally scheduled for June 9 to June 23. Recognizing that “[v]oting is a fundamental right and no one should have to choose between their health and safety and their right to vote,” Executive Order No. 56,  postponed the election two weeks; however, the initial version of the order set the registration deadline at May 18,  following a provision of Virginia state statute. That deadline was 36 days before the primary, and therefore inconsistent with federal law.

Following the letter from advocates,  the governor amended the Executive Order to set the registration deadline at May 26, pursuant to the NVRA.

The new date has been updated on the state’s elections calendar, https://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/calendars-schedules/upcoming-elections.html. The calendar also provides important information including deadlines to request and vote absentee ballots.

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Moving May Elections to November Rejected by General Assembly 4/22/20

LWV-VA Voter Services

Janet Boyd, Voter Services Chair

Late Wednesday evening, the General Assembly, specifically the Senate, rejected Governor Northam’s request that the House of Delegates and the Senate approve legislation to move the May 5 elections for cities and towns in Virginia to November 3, the date scheduled for the General Election. During their regular Veto Session on Wednesday, the House of Delegates approved the change in a close vote; but the Senate, on a technical motion by voice vote, rejected the proposal. Both had to approve it for the change to be effective. Governor Northam requested the change as an amendment to the budget bill, which can be viewed as Amendment #36. The Governor’s request was made to address the safety and health of voters and pollworkers due to COVID-19 risks.

Governor Northam announced soon after the General Assembly recessed, “I will review the General Assembly’s actions on scheduling local elections and announce next steps soon.” The Governor has a couple of options still available to adjust the timing of the election; including postponing the election for up two weeks, or May 19, like he did earlier for the June Primary Elections (now scheduled for June 23) or asking the General Assembly to reconvene in a Special Session.

For now, all the deadlines for the May 5 Election remain. If your locality is holding a May 5 election, you still need to request an absentee ballot by Tuesday, April 28, and return your ballot by mail in time for it to arrive at your local Election Office by 5 pm on May 5, the date of the Election. Check VOTE411 for more information, including the new recommendations on VOTING ABSENTEE BY MAIL due to the corona virus panemic.

We will let you know if the Governor takes additional action on election dates in Virginia. Please reach out to Janet Boyd with any questions:

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Voters shouldn’t have to choose between their health and the right to vote.

The League of Women Voters of Virginia, represented by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, has brought suit against Virginia over the requirement that absentee ballot votes be witnessed.

Having a witness present is an unnecessary risk for voters’ health, particularly those with disabilities or preexisting conditions. In light of Virginia’s substantial additional safeguards, the witness rule does little to protect election integrity.

LWV-VA president Deb Wake notes: “Because African American voters are disproportionately impacted by the virus, the witness requirement presents greater risk to this community’s voting rights.”

The Virginia Mercury reports: “Charlotte Gomer, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Mark Herring (D), said Herring’s office will decide how to proceed in the interest of protecting ‘free and fair elections.’
 
https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/virginia/articles/2020-04-17/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots  (link no longer available)

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots/2020/04/17/9798971a-80d4-11ea-84c2-0792d8591911_story.html

The Virginia Mercury article also ran in the Patch:

Deb Wake (she/her)
President
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LWV-VA Press Release 4/17/20: Voters need the ability to vote safely

LWV-VA Action Alert
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 17, 2020
Richmond, VA
EMPOWERING VOTERS.     DEFENDING DEMOCRACY
Voters need the ability to vote safely
Requiring a witness signature puts absentee voters at risk
Virginia requires voters to open and mark their ballots in the presence of a witness, and the witness must sign the envelope. Voters need to be able to cast their ballots without endangering their health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing is critical. In state and local elections held during the current crisis, more voters are voting absentee. The requirement to have an absentee ballot signed by a witness raises a barrier to voting for those who live alone: a health risk, particularly for voters with medical issues.

“The witness signature requirement creates a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic and threatens to disenfranchise voters who live alone or otherwise do not have access to a witness for their ballot,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, which has long fought for the right to vote. “Because African American voters are disproportionately impacted by the virus, the witness requirement presents greater risk to this community’s voting rights.” 

We call on the State Board of Elections and the Commissioner of Elections to remove the witness signature requirement during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“No voter should have to choose between casting a ballot and their health and safety,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Across the country, we are looking to our leaders to protect both our health and our voting rights during this pandemic. Today we call for that in Virginia.” 

If the witness requirement stands, tens of thousands of Virginia voters will be unable to maintain social distancing recommendations and vote absentee,” said Eden Heilman, legal director at the ACLU of Virginia. “The governor and Virginia election officials can and must adapt voting policies to preserve our democracy and keep everyone safe.”

ACLU-VA is representing the League of Women Voters of Virginia and several individuals who will not be able to safely cast their ballots if the signature requirement remains in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

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