After Advocates Note Discrepancy with Federal Law, Virginia Moves Primary Voter Registration Deadline to May 26
Janet Boyd, LWV-VA, Voter Services
Virginia citizens have an additional eight days to register to vote in this year’s primary election, thanks to voting advocates from Fair Elections Center and the League of Women Voters of Virginia, who noticed a discrepancy between the original May 18 deadline and federal law. Once the Commonwealth’s Commissioner of Elections was notified, Gov. Ralph Northam moved the registration deadline to May 26.
As the groups noted in their letter, “the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA)… requires that voter registration applicants who submit valid applications postmarked or received by 30 days before a federal election must be registered in the election. For a June 23, 2020 election, voters must be allowed to register through and including Tuesday, May 26, 2020.”
“More voters tend to register as elections approach, so the NVRA serves as a backstop on lengthy deadlines that erect barriers to voter registration,” said Michelle Kanter Cohen, senior counsel with Fair Elections Center. “We are appreciative that election officials and the governor responded quickly once we identified this inconsistency, so that voters have the opportunity to register on the timeframe guaranteed to them under federal law.”
“We were pleased to work cooperatively with the Commissioner of Elections on this issue,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. “The League works hard to make sure voters have the information they need to exercise their rights, and we look forward to informing our members and the public about the new deadline.”
As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, Gov. Northam exercised his authority to postpone this year’s primary, originally scheduled for June 9 to June 23. Recognizing that “[v]oting is a fundamental right and no one should have to choose between their health and safety and their right to vote,” Executive Order No. 56, postponed the election two weeks; however, the initial version of the order set the registration deadline at May 18, following a provision of Virginia state statute. That deadline was 36 days before the primary, and therefore inconsistent with federal law.
Following the letter from advocates, the governor amended the Executive Order to set the registration deadline at May 26, pursuant to the NVRA.
The new date has been updated on the state’s elections calendar, https://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/calendars-schedules/upcoming-elections.html. The calendar also provides important information including deadlines to request and vote absentee ballots.