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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Freedom to Vote

Deb Wake, LWV-VA President

For the People Act has been in the news a lot lately. The League supports it as do the majority of voters, but what exactly is in it? The name derives from the fact that we live in a representative democracy–we elect legislators to represent us in the crafting of laws for our collective benefit. However, legislators have not always had their constituents in mind and have sometimes worked to grab the power belonging to voters. The 886 page bill is divided into three main sections: Voting, Campaign Finance and Ethics.

Voting

  • Registration
    • Allow online registration
    • Prohibit requiring more than the last 4 digits of a social security number
    • Automatic voter registration
    • Same day voter registration for federal elections
    • Provides Help America Vote Act (HAVA) funds for modernization of voter registration
    • Makes it unlawful to interfere with voter registration
  • Voter roll maintenance
    • Limits removal of voters based on interstate crosschecks for federal elections
    • Prohibits returned, nonforwardable mail as a basis for removal
    • Clarifies that failure to vote is not grounds for removal
  • Access to voting
    • Prohibits the ability of those who are not election officers from challenging eligibility of voters
    • Improves voting access for those with disabilities
    • Prohibits mis/disinformation and voter intimidation
    • Provides for restoration of voting rights after felony time served
    • Requires that provisional ballots from eligible voters are counted
    • Requires 15 consecutive days of early voting for federal elections
    • Requires polling places are located near public transportation
    • Makes voting by mail available
    • Allows voters to track receipt of absentee ballots
    • Allows for postage paid for all voting materials
    • Requires military and overseas voters be sent ballots 45 days in advance of an election
    • Allows universities to register voters
    • Requires voters be notified of polling place changes no later than 7 days before an election
    • Allows voters to sign sworn affidavit in lieu of a photo ID
    • Provides accommodations for voters residing in Indian lands
    • Ensures equitable and efficient operation of polling places
    • Requires secure drop boxes for federal elections
    • Allows for curbside voting
  • Verifiable results by using paper ballots
  • Requires EAC to develop election officer training models and provide grants to cover trainings
  • Requires Attorney General establish state-based response system and hotline to provide voter information and assistance

Election Integrity

  • Restores the Voting Rights Act
  • Protect and promote Native American voting rights
  • Establish DC statehood
  • Recognizes voting rights in US Territories

Election Security

  • Establishes standards for vendors and equipment
  • Directs EAC to develop best practices and guidelines for ballot design
  • Requires regular system testing
  • Makes grants available to states for updating voting equipment
  • Investigation of potential cybersecurity incidents
  • Authorizes grants for risk-limiting audits
  • Requires scheduled testing of voting equipment

Redistricting

  • Requires every state to have an independent Redistricting Commission to draw congressional districts
  • Ends practice of prison gerrymandering

Campaign Finance

  • Establishes duty to report foreign interference
  • Enacts the Disclose Act to prohibit donations campaign donations from foreign actors and requires reporting of donations of $10,000 or more
  • Enacts the Honest Ads Act to require the same rules apply to to digital and online ads as already apply to radio, tv and print ads.
  • Expands disclosure requirements to cover corporations, unions and other organizations purchasing political ads.
  • Expresses need for Congress to amend the Constitution to address detrimental Citizens United decision.
  • Establishes public financing (from surcharge on settlements paid by corporate law breakers and wealthy tax cheats) match of 6-1 on small donor contributions (or first $200 from presidential candidates)
  • Restructures the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to have five commissioners and makes permanent the FEC’s civil penalty authority.
  • Establishes deadline for disbursement of campaign funds
  • Requires FEC to develop requirements for political committee reports prior to an election

Ethics

  • Requires code of ethics for Supreme Court judges
  • Increases resources for the Foreign Agents Registration unit of the Department of Justice.
  • Requires all presidential appointees to recuse themselves from any matter where the President or President’s spouse might have a substantial interest
  • Establishes a single clearinghouse for Lobby Disclosure Act and Foreign Agents Registration Act registration forms
  • Prevents lobbyists from working on behalf of foreign entities
  • Prohibits incentive payments from corporations to individuals entering or leaving government service
  • Prohibits federal employee from award contract to former employee for two years after leaving the company or government service
  • Requires Executive Branch ethics waivers to be disclosed to the Office of Government Ethics and to the public
  • Reauthorizes the Office of Government Ethics and enhances tis enforcement mechanisms
  • Codifies Executive Branch ethics pledge
  • Codifies rules for members of Congress and their staff from using official position to advance either financial interests or those of their immediate families
  • Requires online linking of FEC and Lobbying Disclosure Act reports
  • Requires disclosure of individual and certain business tax returns for Presidents and Vice Presidents as well as certain candidate for those offices and requires that FEC make these forms publicly available.

 

It is important to note that For the People’s Act sets a floor for voting practices, not a ceiling. Many of Virginia’s laws exceed these guidelines making sure that voters have the freedom to vote and the power of their vote is preserved.

 

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Votes Taken at the 2021 LWV-VA 40th Biennial Convention

Carolyn Caywood, LWV of South Hampton Roads

All of the many League members who contributed to making the Convention function virtually did a terrific job and were wonderfully patient and unflappable.

Bylaws Votes on the bylaws changes were held on Saturday so the updated bylaws would cover the rest of the Convention. There were four changes but since the first two are mandated by the National League of Women Voters, no vote was needed: #1. Add Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Policy –  Note, this is a Policy rather than a Position.  #2. Add Student Membership Category.

The third and fourth changes were passed by the delegates.

#3. Substitute with new National LWV term, Leagues-at-Large.  This term describes a group of Members at Large who are in the process of forming a new local League, but are not yet official. Prior term was Members at Large Unit. 

#4. Add proportional Convention and Council Voting Representation for Members at Large (MALs). The new MAL delegate, Tonja Roberts, was waiting in the wings and participated in the rest of the Convention.

The other votes were held on Sunday.  109 delegates and 12 board members were present to vote, thus the maximum possible votes was 121.  All 14 local Leagues were represented. 

Positions for Adoption  Both proposed positions were adopted and all current positions retained.

LWV-VA Program 2021-2023: A motion was made on Saturday to limit the 2021-2023 Program to two new studies and to use ranked choice voting to identify which two. The motion narrowly failed 51 yes to 59 no.  None of the not-recommended program proposals were considered.

A motion was made on Sunday to consider the proposed studies in reverse order. It passed 91 yes to 15 no. Delegates approved all four studies so it will be a very busy biennium.  All four study chairs solicited more volunteers.

  • Money in Politics: to cover the full scope of financing campaigns, from a donation through its expenditure including: public disclosure of the donor, transparency in actual use of funds before and after the election, limits on personal use, and Virginia executive branch structure to conduct effective oversight and enforcement. This passed 112-0.   
  • Environmental Justice: to review LWV-VA natural resource position, to address how Virginia can best support environmental justice initiatives to halt or prevent future racial and economic environmental inequalities. This passed 104-7.
  • Education Equity: whether state funding is equitable and ensures high quality education for all K-12 students. This passed 88-24.
  • Childcare: to examine the nature of Virginia’s childcare system. This passed 83-26.

Budget The Proposed LWV-VA Operating Fund Budget for FY2022 passed 108-0.

Resolutions  and Courtesy Resolutions

  1. Lois Page moved, RESOLVED that LWV-VA consider a virtual option for the statewide convention in 2023. She agreed that a hybrid virtual and in-person convention would be such an option. Delegates pointed out that this would be more inclusive but more difficult, and hoped that by 2023 such events would be more common and venues more experienced.  After many spoke, debate was closed, 97-8, and the resolution passed 101-7.
  2. The board moved, RESOLVED That the League of Women Voters of Virginia steadfastly insists that the General Assembly protect Voter Access to Absentee Ballots and remove the burden of witness signatures. It passed 102-5.

Two courtesy resolutions commended the convention committee and recognized and appreciated Valarie Fillgrove who passed away this spring.

Advocacy awards: Since the number of actions was divided by the number of members in the local League, all Leagues were on an equal footing in this “friendly competition.”

First place: LWV of Washington County

Second place: LWV of South Hampton Roads

Third place: LWV of Arlington 

 

Candidates The slate of candidates was elected unanimously.

President: Deb Wake (Fairfax)

1st Vice President: Joan Porte (Arlington)

2nd Vice President: Erni Bridges (Fairfax)

Secretary: Jes Davis (Montgomery County)

Treasurer: Debbie Combest (Fredericksburg)

DIRECTORS

Doris Bey (Richmond)

Janet Boyd (Arlington)

Carolyn Caywood (South Hampton Roads)

Denise Harrington (Williamsburg)

Andrianne Konstas-Salvette (Fairfax)

Natalie Miller-Moore (Williamsburg)

NOMINATING COMMITTEE

Mary Crutchfield, Chair (Richmond)

Chris DeRosa (Arlington)

Elizabeth Obenshain (Montgomery County)

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