After Advocates Note Discrepancy with Federal Law, Virginia Moves Primary Voter Registration Deadline to May 26

LWV-VA Voter Services

Janet Boyd, LWV-VA, Voter Services
4/28/2020

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.

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Moving May Elections to November Rejected by General Assembly 4/22/20

LWV-VA Voter Services

Janet Boyd, Voter Services Chair

Late Wednesday evening, the General Assembly, specifically the Senate, rejected Governor Northam’s request that the House of Delegates and the Senate approve legislation to move the May 5 elections for cities and towns in Virginia to November 3, the date scheduled for the General Election. During their regular Veto Session on Wednesday, the House of Delegates approved the change in a close vote; but the Senate, on a technical motion by voice vote, rejected the proposal. Both had to approve it for the change to be effective. Governor Northam requested the change as an amendment to the budget bill, which can be viewed as Amendment #36. The Governor’s request was made to address the safety and health of voters and pollworkers due to COVID-19 risks.

Governor Northam announced soon after the General Assembly recessed, “I will review the General Assembly’s actions on scheduling local elections and announce next steps soon.” The Governor has a couple of options still available to adjust the timing of the election; including postponing the election for up two weeks, or May 19, like he did earlier for the June Primary Elections (now scheduled for June 23) or asking the General Assembly to reconvene in a Special Session.

For now, all the deadlines for the May 5 Election remain. If your locality is holding a May 5 election, you still need to request an absentee ballot by Tuesday, April 28, and return your ballot by mail in time for it to arrive at your local Election Office by 5 pm on May 5, the date of the Election. Check VOTE411 for more information, including the new recommendations on VOTING ABSENTEE BY MAIL due to the corona virus panemic.

We will let you know if the Governor takes additional action on election dates in Virginia. Please reach out to Janet Boyd with any questions:

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