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:
 
 
https://www.roanoke.com/news/local/judge-grants-motion-to-waive-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots-for-june-primaries/article_3f4f340d-7c2e-5cbf-b7bb-5e1a8faad8d8.html
 
 
 
 
 
Share this:

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://wset.com/news/local/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots-04-17-2020

https://wjla.com/news/local/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots

https://www.13newsnow.com/article/news/politics/elections/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots/291-fabcf082-81f4-47ea-bfb1-e083a0790ea5

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/elections-2020/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots/ar-BB12Nn0X?li=BBnb7Kz

https://www.nbc12.com/2020/04/18/latest-virginia-news-sports-business-entertainment-am-edt/

https://www.wfxrtv.com/news/commonwealth-news/virginia-sued-over-witness-requirement-for-absentee-ballots/

https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/04/17/us/ap-us-absentee-ballots-witness-requirement-1st-ld-writethru.html  (link no longer available)

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
Share this:

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]

Share this:

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
Share this:

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.

Share this:
1 2 3 4 5