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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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://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
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LWV-VA Press Release 4/17/20: Voters need the ability to vote safely

LWV-VA Action Alert
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 17, 2020
Richmond, VA
EMPOWERING VOTERS.     DEFENDING DEMOCRACY
Voters need the ability to vote safely
Requiring a witness signature puts absentee voters at risk
Virginia requires voters to open and mark their ballots in the presence of a witness, and the witness must sign the envelope. Voters need to be able to cast their ballots without endangering their health, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when social distancing is critical. In state and local elections held during the current crisis, more voters are voting absentee. The requirement to have an absentee ballot signed by a witness raises a barrier to voting for those who live alone: a health risk, particularly for voters with medical issues.

“The witness signature requirement creates a health risk during the COVID-19 pandemic and threatens to disenfranchise voters who live alone or otherwise do not have access to a witness for their ballot,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, which has long fought for the right to vote. “Because African American voters are disproportionately impacted by the virus, the witness requirement presents greater risk to this community’s voting rights.” 

We call on the State Board of Elections and the Commissioner of Elections to remove the witness signature requirement during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“No voter should have to choose between casting a ballot and their health and safety,” said Chris Carson, president of the board of directors of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “Across the country, we are looking to our leaders to protect both our health and our voting rights during this pandemic. Today we call for that in Virginia.” 

If the witness requirement stands, tens of thousands of Virginia voters will be unable to maintain social distancing recommendations and vote absentee,” said Eden Heilman, legal director at the ACLU of Virginia. “The governor and Virginia election officials can and must adapt voting policies to preserve our democracy and keep everyone safe.”

ACLU-VA is representing the League of Women Voters of Virginia and several individuals who will not be able to safely cast their ballots if the signature requirement remains in place during the COVID-19 crisis.

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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]

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LWV-VA Press Release 4-8-20, Julia Tanner Action Director

LWV-VA Action Alert

Voter Safety is a Priority

Voters need to be able to exercise their right to vote in a safe environment

COVID-19 has forced all of us to do things in a new way.  In response to these health concerns, today Governor Northam  asked the General Assembly to “move the May General Election and all special elections scheduled for May 5, 2020 to the November 3, 2020 General Election date to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19.” In addition, the Governor is “exercising his statutory authority… to move the June primary elections from June 9, 2020 to June 23, 2020.”

Deb Wake, President of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, stated that the League supports these decisions: “Elections, a foundation of democratic government, must take place while ensuring voter safety. Consolidating and allowing time to plan for the safe conduct of elections will help ensure that voters can exercise their right to vote as safely as possible.”

The League further encourages the Governor, the Attorney General and the General Assembly to work to make vote by mail a priority and an option for voters as a precaution in the event that the pandemic persists in the lead up to the November 3, 2020 general election.  The League of Women Voters has long advocated for vote by mail in order to improve voters’ access to the polls. Health concerns now add to these reasons for facilitating voting at home. Those at the highest risk of death from COVID-19 are also Virginia’s most faithful voters. Election Officers are also at risk.

“In order for the Commonwealth’s leaders and officers of elections to timely plan for and execute safe elections in November, we support appropriate measures permitting every registered voter to receive a ballot by mail (without submitting an application),” added Joan Porte, First V.P, League of Women Voters of Virginia.

We applaud Governor Northam for making the health of voters and election workers a priority while still recognizing the importance of exercising our right to vote. 

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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
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Equal Rights Amendment Update

On Monday, Jan. 27, the Virginia General Assembly voted to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. There is no need for signature by the governor. This is final action of the Commonwealth.

The League of Women Voters issued a press release [link] commending the state Senate and House on ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. The League was born when women won voting rights, 100 years ago.

“The Constitution is the bedrock of our laws, and the Equal Rights Amendment will provide enduring protection,” said Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. “Virginians overwhelmingly support ratification, and by ratifying the ERA today, Virginia’s General Assembly represents the will of the people.” 

Ratification represented great work by coalitions of many, including League members. The state League commends all who worked for ratification, and congratulates you on this milestone. The Equal Rights Amendment will further equal rights under law and help combat systemic discrimination. 

Our job is not over. The joint resolution enacting the Amendment set forth a deadline. While litigation has been brought seeking to have the deadline declared invalid, Congress is working to remove it out of caution. Virginia’s lawmakers are already on the bills. The League of Women Voters of the United States is working to help educate more lawmakers about these bills.

In support of that effort, we urge you to reach out to friends in other states and ask them to sign on to H.J. Res. 79 and S.J. Res. 6. We can help ensure that the efforts of Virginia, Nevada, and Illinois were not done in vain and will lead to real change. 

With greatest appreciation for those who kept the candle lit, let us celebrate, rest, and move forward.

Deb Wake (she/her)
President

Read the Press Release from January 17, 2020 HERE.

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