Happy Juneteenth!

The League of Women Voters of Virginia formally celebrates and acknowledges June 19th as Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day, or Emancipation Day– the oldest-known annual celebration of the ending of slavery in the United States. The holiday commemorates June 19, 1865, when the news finally reached African Americans in Gavelston, Texas that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves living in Confederate states two years earlier. When Union soldiers arrived in Galveston to bring the news that slavery had been abolished, former slaves celebrated, and thus Juneteenth was born.

Earlier this week, Governor Ralph Northam proposed making Juneteenth an official state holiday beginning this year. We acknowledge our state’s confederate history and current climate of systemic injustice and discrimination. It is therefore vital we elevate awareness of this important piece of African American history as we continue to come to terms with the senseless murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless other black lives lost to anti-blackness and racial violence in America.

As we pay tribute today, we acknowledge the many roles and contributions of the African American spirit to the League and generally to our society, the countless supporters, organizers, and attendees of Juneteenth celebrations hosted all across this nation and beyond. You are writing the history of our country and our world – there can be no greater honor than that. We thank you.

As an organization whose mission is to empower voters, encourage political responsibility and defend democracy, we  stand in solidarity with Black communities. and support protesters across our country who are currently fighting for widespread police reform in response to the pandemic of disproportionate police brutality on black and brown communities. We stand behind the demand for increased funding of healthcare, education, and housing in such communities. The League will show our solidarity, not only by speaking out against racism in all forms, but by doing the work and advocacy required of us to be anti-racist.

Today is a day for celebration, education, and correction. We will take it as such, and ask all members to do the same. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we begin to effect significant and lasting improvements in our society. Examine how you can be an ally on this day. The voting rights advocacy community must not stay silent in the face of systemic injustice. We must act and speak in solidarity with the Black community and the movement for Black Lives. Fighting for an educated, just future for all Americans includes speaking up for a just, nondiscriminatory, participatory democracy without system race-based outcomes and violence. Being silent is not an option. Black lives matter today, and every day. Happy Juneteenth.

We thank Amir Methvin, LWV-VA intern and member, for her invaluable contribution in writing this statement.

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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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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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