Contents of the June 2020 Virginia Voter
Julia Tanner, LWV-VA Action
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.”
Read our latest newsletter here! Vol. 67 No. 11 – May 2020 VV
This article by President Deb Wake will tell you more about this issue.
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.’
”’No Virginian should have to choose between their health and exercising their right to vote,’ she said.”
Media coverage includes:
The Associated Press story [https://apnews.com/9c09f0cd457bae4e2515df97ebd958ab] has run in media including:
https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/04/17/us/ap-us-absentee-ballots-witness-requirement-1st-ld-writethru.html (link no longer available)
The Virginia Mercury article also ran in the Patch:
“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]
Here is the link to the April Virginia Voter.
Please remember that we have a special page where you can find the current and previous Virginia Voters at “Newsletters (VV, VE) in the menu bar or https://lwv-va.org/publications/va-voter-and-voter-express/
“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
On 1/15/2020, Virginia Became the 38th State to Pass the Equal Rights Amendment.
From our Membership Director