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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Letter to Governor Northam 4/10/20

“Dear Governor Northam:
The League of Women Voters of Virginia (LWV-VA) appreciates your
leadership of the Commonwealth during this state of emergency. Your postponement of the primary and support for consolidation of upcoming elections will help safeguard voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Advance planning will be essential to public health and public trust in democratic elections during this time.” [Continue Reading Here]

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March Virginia Voter

The Virginia Voter

Hot off the presses” is your copy of the Virginia Voter.

In this issue you will find: 

  • Secret Agents of Change
  • Your Help Needed in the Push for Redistricting
  • Virginia General Assembly: February 2020; Pre-Crossover,  Crossover and Post-Crossover
  • League Day Recap
  • Save the Date for LWV-VA Council!
  • What Sparks Political Activity?
  • March 3 President Primary FAQ
  • Report on Human Rights Legislation in this Year’s General Assembly Session
  • Join the Celebration!
  • Deaf History Month March 13th – April 15th.
  • Some Special Photos from This Legislative Session
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Connecting the Dots: The Link between Poverty and Affordable Housing

Alice Tousignant, LWV-VA Housing Study Chair

People who wait on you at restaurants and care for seniors and people with disabilities earn about $9.50 per hour, while those who clean stores and offices pull in $11.50 and those who assist teachers make $12.50 an hour. All of these workers are considered very low income using the statewide income limits for Virginia for a one-person household– $31,000. What can they afford for rent? Housing is considered affordable if you don’t spend more than 30% of your income on it.

Every year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) releases its Out of Reach (OOR) report, which documents the gap between renters’ wages and the cost of rental housing across the US. In order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment in Virginia, you would need to work 109 hours per week at the State’s minimum wage of $7.25. The average US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Fair Market Rent (FMR) for a one-bedroom apartment in Virginia is $1,025 per month. In order to afford this rent, you must earn $19.70 an hour or $40,981 a year. None of the workers mentioned above could afford the average one-bedroom apartment in Virginia. These numbers differ substantially depending on where you live in Virginia: Arlington – $1,454, Richmond City – $932, Blacksburg – $759, and Giles County – $529 for a one-bedroom apartment. To obtain data specifically for your area, click here, scroll to Jurisdictions, and plug in your city or county.

If you pay more than 30% of your income on housing, you are considered cost-burdened. The lower your income, the higher the cost burden, making it difficult for persons earning low wages or those on fixed incomes to pay for basic necessities such as food, medicine, and transportation. While the very low-income earners mentioned above would pay more than 30% of their income on rent, 69% of extremely low-income households ($18, 650 annually for a one-person household) pay more than 50% of their income for housing according to the NLIHC.

[CONTINUE READING THIS ARTICLE HERE]

Extremely low-income people have the most difficult time finding available and affordable housing in Virginia. NLIHC also publishes a GAP report showing the shortage of affordable homes in the US. This report shows that there are only 36 available and affordable rental units for every 100 extremely low-income households in Virginia.

While an increase in the minimum wage would certainly help remedy some of this housing problem, it is not the only answer, especially for low wage earners and for those on fixed incomes such as Supplemental Security Income, which is currently $771 monthly.

What are the most effective solutions to this housing shortage? One answer is the State-funded Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF) which provides low-interest loans to preserve and build housing as well as homeless reduction grants. Since its inception in 2014, the VHTF has provided over $26 million to create/preserve over 3,000 units of affordable housing with approximately 67% of these rental units for very low-income households.

In his budget, Governor Northam has proposed a large increase for the VHTF with $84 million over the next three years. The General Assembly will take up this recommendation when they convene in January for their 2020 session. These funds would go a long way to creating housing for Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens. Since the LWV-VA does not yet have a position on affordable housing, the League cannot take a formal position on supporting this budget item. (The Affordable Housing Study Committee is working on this issue which we hope will culminate in a State housing position at the 2021 League Convention.) In the meantime, if you feel this issue is important, you are encouraged to personally advocate with your legislators in the General Assembly. For more information on the Affordable Housing Study, please contact Alice Tousignant.

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