Virginia Voter: June 2022

Virginia Voter: June 2022

President’s Message: Working Towards Allyship

Gun Violence: What Can You Do?

Mark Your Calendar for DEI Trainings and Workshops!

June 21 Primary – Redistricting Requires Research

YOUR LEAGUE NEEDS YOU!

Mattaponi Tribe: Forming the Sacred Circle Again

LWV of the Prince William-Fauquier Area Celebrates Sponsorship of the 100+ Consecutive Black Lives Matter Vigil

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2021 LWV-VA Annual Report

Power to the People

Voting is power. Although former male slaves gained the right to vote with passage of the 15th amendment, and women won the right to vote in 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment, it really wasn’t until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that most Black voters were able to exercise their right to vote. This year we worked to pass the Virginia Voting Rights Act to provide minority protections at the state level. 

Improved access to the ballot was critical during the pandemic so that voters could exercise their power to vote without unduly risking their health. While 45 days of No Excuse Absentee Voting was passed in 2019, new laws were added in 2021 including the requirement for registrars to cure ballots (correct errors on absentee ballot envelopes) received/postmarked by election day, paid postage for absentee ballots, and the location of drop boxes.

League members were also key to getting a first passage of a constitutional amendment to protect voting rights that are automatically restored upon release from felony incarceration. We’ll push for legislative passage a second time so that voters can choose at the ballot box next November.

We advocated for passage of campaign finance reform–which took the form of a bipartisan study whose continuance we hope will be renewed in the upcoming session. Reforms are necessary to protect the voices of all voters–not just those with the largest pocketbooks.

Covid highlighted inequities in broadband access across the state and we pushed for funding to increase internet availability so that all Virginians could have the necessary tools for jobs and schools.

While we were not able to get legislation passed to permanently remove the witness requirement from absentee ballots, we were able to get the requirement waived for elections held while the state was under a medical emergency. In the coming legislative session, we will renew our efforts to remove the barrier of a witness requirement so that voters living alone, or who have a disability, are able to cast their ballots confidently and independently. 

We supported bringing the redistricting process into the sunlight with the creation of a bipartisan, citizen-led commission. A corps of dedicated members blogged about the process and provided testimony. A few months ago, we successfully litigated to protect the 2020 law that eliminated prison gerrymandering and instead counted prisoners at their last known address rather than in a prison far from home and representation.

We are proud of our work to restore the power of the vote to Virginians and give voters more control over choosing who represents them. We invite you to join the League, renew your membership, and get involved in an issue group or one of our short-term projects. Please contact me with any questions and, if you’re able, consider making a donation to support our work.

With your support, we can continue to defend democracy and empower voters.

Deb Wake, LWV-VA President

 

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New Voting & Elections Laws took effect July 1, 2020

No Excuse Absentee Voting, HB 1 (Herring), HB 207 (VanValkenburg), SB 11 (Howell)

  • Allows any voter qualified to vote in an election to vote absentee without an excuse.

Redistricting Constitutional Amendment, SJ18 (Barker), and Criteria Bill, SB717 (McClellan) / HB1255 (Price)

  • Virginia’s election maps are gerrymandered. Virginia’s Constitution allows legislators to draw boundaries that ensure they are reelected.  Legislators are able to use detailed voter data in selecting their own constituents. Last year, after extensive negotiation, Virginia’s legislature passed a constitutional amendment for a redistricting commission of 8 legislators and 8 citizens, with a citizen chair. Virginia’s legislature passed the constitutional amendment the requisite second time this session, along with criteria legislation from Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Cia Price. The Senate vote was 38 – 2, and the House vote was 46 – 43. The General Assembly also passed a ballot referendum which will put the matter before voters in the November general election.

Expand Accepted IDs; Eliminating Photo ID Requirement HB19 (Lindsey), HB213 (Sullivan), SB65 (Locke)

  • HB19 and SB65 eliminate, for most qualified voters, the requirement to provide photo identification at the polls
  • HB213 adds to the list of acceptable forms of voter ID a valid student photo ID card issued by any institution of higher education in any other state or territory of the United States

Repealing Race Based Restrictions on Voting, HB1086 (Price), SB555 (Spruill)

  • Repeals laws that were still on the books relating to voting restrictions, poll taxes, and registration records separated on the basis of race

Automatic Voter Registration, HB235 (J. Cole), SB219 (Marsden)

  • Gives visitors to the Department of Motor Vehicles the choice to opt out of registering to vote instead of an opt in to filling out a voter registration application.

Election Day Holiday, HB108 (Lindsey), SB610 (Lucas)

  • Designates Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, as a state holiday and removes Lee-Jackson Day as a state holiday.

High School Voter Registration, HB1491 (Guy)

  • Requires every public high school to give students, who are eligible to register to vote, access to registration information and applications, or access to the online registration system, and the opportunity to apply during the school day.

 

Same Day Registration & Voting, HB201 (Ayala), delayed effective date of July 1, 2022.

  • Will let qualified voters register and vote on the same day if they provide proof of residency. 
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June 23, 2020 Primary Election

Tuesday, June 23 is Federal Primary Election Day for Virginia. If you haven’t voted Absentee, vote at your assigned polling location on Tuesday between 6am and 7pm. Some polling locations have changed temporarily due to COVID concerns–you should have received a notice from your local registrar if your polling location changed and you can check your registrar’s website. You must show a valid photo ID, like a Driver’s license. More details on candidates at VOTE411. Stay safe!

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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
 
 
 
 
 
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