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