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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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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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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