2021 LWV-VA Annual Report

Power to the People

Voting is power. Although former male slaves gained the right to vote with passage of the 15th amendment, and women won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, it really wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that most Black voters were able to exercise their right to vote. This year we worked to pass the Virginia Voting Rights Act to provide minority protections at the state level. 

Improved access to the ballot was critical during the pandemic so that voters could exercise their power to vote without unduly risking their health. While 45 days of No Excuse Absentee Voting was passed in 2019, new laws were added in 2021 including the requirement for registrars to cure ballots (correct errors on absentee ballot envelopes) received/postmarked by election day, paid postage for absentee ballots, and the location of drop boxes.

League members were also key to getting a first passage of a constitutional amendment to protect voting rights that are automatically restored upon release from felony incarceration. We’ll push for legislative passage a second time so that voters can choose at the ballot box next November.

We advocated for passage of campaign finance reform–which took the form of a bipartisan study whose continuance we hope will be renewed in the upcoming session. Reforms are necessary to protect the voices of all voters–not just those with the largest pocketbooks.

Covid highlighted inequities in broadband access across the state and we pushed for funding to increase internet availability so that all Virginians could have the necessary tools for jobs and schools.

While we were not able to get legislation passed to permanently remove the witness requirement from absentee ballots, we were able to get the requirement waived for elections held while the state was under a medical emergency. In the coming legislative session, we will renew our efforts to remove the barrier of a witness requirement so that voters living alone, or who have a disability, are able to cast their ballots confidently and independently. 

We supported bringing the redistricting process into the sunlight with the creation of a bipartisan, citizen-led commission. A corps of dedicated members blogged about the process and provided testimony. A few months ago, we successfully litigated to protect the 2020 law that eliminated prison gerrymandering and instead counted prisoners at their last known address rather than in a prison far from home and representation.

We are proud of our work to restore the power of the vote to Virginians and give voters more control over choosing who represents them. We invite you to join the League, renew your membership, and get involved in an issue group or one of our short-term projects. Please contact me with any questions and, if you’re able, consider making a donation to support our work.

With your support, we can continue to defend democracy and empower voters.

Deb Wake, LWV-VA President

 

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Prisoners should be counted in their home communities

League of Women Voters of Virginia, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization jointly file amicus brief to prohibit prison gerrymandering.

Just as gerrymandering takes away power from voters, prison-gerrymandering has the same effect on the home communities of incarcerated individuals. Last summer, on July 1, 2020, the anti-prison gerrymandering law went into effect that required inmates be counted at their last home address rather than where they are currently incarcerated. League of Women Voters of Virginia, American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization jointly filed an amicus brief to support the bipartisan Virginia Redistricting Commission as it follows the law when counting prison populations.

“The anti-prison gerrymandering law should be used by the redistricting commission and does not violate Virginia’s constitution,” said Deb Wake, President of the LWV of Virginia. “Incarcerated people should be counted at their last home address, not in the communities where they are incarcerated. Otherwise, the political power of their communities is limited.” 

Black Virginians make up less than 21 percent of Virginia’s population but comprise 56 percent of Virginia’s incarcerated population. By counting inmates at their last home address, their numbers are used for accurate  representation and resource allocation. 

“The mass incarceration of Black and Brown Virginians takes away the voting power of those communities and adds voting power to mostly white, rural communities,” said Vishal Agraharkar, senior staff attorney at ACLU of Virginia. “We must end prison gerrymandering and count incarcerated people in their home districts to ensure the promise of ‘one person, one vote.’

“Incarcerated people should be counted where they have voting power,” said 

Virginia Kase Solomón, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the US. “Black and brown individuals are disproportionately represented in our prisons — not counting them in their communities dilutes the overall voting power of those incarcerated in a facility outside of their home state. Virginia’s redistricting commission must be allowed to exercise the anti-prison gerrymandering law when drawing Virginia’s maps.” 
 
“The National Black Nonpartisan Redistricting Organization (NBNRO) appreciates the Virginia ACLU taking the lead and the Virginia League of Woman Voters for joining in this Amicus action to enforce the Virginia Statue restricting prison gerrymandering in the Commonwealth, a practice that has had race-based impacts on many communities in Virginia,” said Phil Thompson, Executive Director of NBNRO. “The rights of the incarcerated to be counted within their home communities should not be a deprivation of their incarceration.”
 
Contact Denise Harrington, Advocacy Director
 
 

 

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Quilts4DC Statehood Quilt Challenge

The Quilts4DC Statehood Quilt Challenge is underway through September 30, 2021. Create a quilt inspired by the opportunity for Washington, DC, to become the 51st state. Your creation can be any shape, any style, and any pattern or design (properly attributed) within the size limitations (maximum of 96 inches in circumference but no smaller than 8 inches by 12 inches), as long as it meets the definition of a quilt with a finished edge. Completed works for an online quilt exhibition can be submitted electronically in September 2021 – instructions available at the end of August.  Selected works have the opportunity to become part of one or more in-person exhibitions in early 2022. Challenge instructions and resources may be found at https://www.lwvdc.org/quilts4dc.  For more information or any questions, contact us at . Join us on Facebook at Quilts 4 DC Facebook Group to collaborate, share your work, and find inspiration. Follow the fun on Instagram (Quilts4DC) and Twitter (@Quilts4DC). Quilts4DC is organized by quilters in the DC region in association with the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia, a non-partisan 501(c)(3).

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Shining a Light on Virginia’s New Redistricting Commission!

by Fran Larkins and Chris DeRosa, Co-Coordinators LWV-VA Redistricting Committee 
(With contributions, of course, from all the Redistricting Observer Corps members)

Many Virginia League of Women Voters members worked very hard to ensure passage of the Constitutional Amendment establishing the Virginia Redistricting Commission. 

In the fall of 2019, President Deb Wake asked Chris DeRosa (Arlington) to co-chair a Redistricting Committee and to coordinate the LWVUS People Powered Fair Maps (PPFM) efforts in Virginia.  We soon realized our work didn’t end in November 2020 when two-thirds of Virginians voted “Yes!” on the constitutional amendment. Fran Larkins (Fredericksburg) joined Chris as co-coordinator and a core group of the committee became an Observer Corps to monitor the Redistricting Commission. Sara Fitzgerald (Falls Church), an experienced blogger, worked with Nancy Priddy (Richmond) in January to set up a blog on the League website. Our first post as “watchdogs” reported on the selection of Commissioners.  

Since then, we have taken turns writing detailed notes of all meetings of the Commission and its two subcommittees, as well as all public hearings, in-person and virtual. So far, we have covered 21 Commission and subcommittee meetings and four public hearings.  Every meeting is summarized and posted on the blog within a few hours of adjournment. These blogs help members and the greater public, as well as Division of Legislative Services’ staff and Commissioners, quickly gain information and insight into the meetings and hearings.
 
The Redistricting Observer Corps includes “veteran” League members Carolyn Caywood (South Hampton Roads) and Sara Fitzgerald who was involved with updating the Virginia League study on redistricting reform in 2015. The fight for redistricting reform brought others to join the Virginia League for the first time – Chris DeRosa and Candy Butler (Fairfax) in 2017, Fran Larkins in 2019, and Peggy Layne (Montgomery County), joined just last year. All were looking for a way to make a difference!
 
The various backgrounds and skills of the Redistricting Observer Corps make for a strong team. These include Sara Fitzgerald’s journalist career with the Washington Post whose speed at writing is amazing and an example for us all. Chris DeRosa, our inspiring and tireless leader, is a M. Ed retired special education teacher and Peggy Layne is a retired engineer and higher education administrator. We’re grateful for her enjoyment of the “nitty gritty of data and map drawing.” Two librarians are a natural for the team – Carolyn Caywood, retired from the Virginia Beach Public Library, and Fran Larkins, former librarian with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. The Corps is also a perfect fit for Candy Butler, a political science/journalism graduate of Syracuse University and a Capitol Hill staffer of 34 years. We are so grateful she “jumped on the moving train.”

Corps members admit to being redistricting “geeks” and support each other at busy hearings by “filling) in the gaps if a name or detail is missed.” An added bonus is “we enjoy a lot of camaraderie as we watch the meetings and hearings online, while texting to each other as if we were all together.”  The work is truly rewarding and “to top it all off, it’s fun!” 
 
Covering the Commission over the next few months is going to be increasingly time-consuming and, if you would like to join our team, we’d welcome your energy.    

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