Peter’s Take is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are those of the author only.
Historic Virginians voted in the 2020 presidential election. Virginia Democratic lawmakers have introduced important new voting laws that deserve to be passed. The 2021 legislative session in Virginia is expected to be suspended on February 28th.
Virginia Voting Rights Act
The Virginia Voting Rights Act is at the core of these 2021 democratic reform initiatives:
[I]Its purpose is to prevent last-minute polls from being closed and other election changes occurring that could disproportionately affect color voters. … Supporters say this is in part a response to a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that effectively lifted the federal government’s tight control over elections in the south, including Virginia.
The House of Delegates version of this legislation is HB-1890.
- No voting standard, practice, or process may be imposed or applied in any way that results in the denial or denial of a U.S. citizen’s right to vote based on race, color, or minority language group is restricted.
- By and large, electoral methods cannot be imposed or applied in one place in a manner that interferes with the ability of a protected class, as set forth in the Bill, to vote candidates or to influence the outcome of an election by diluting or curtailing the rights of voters Are members of a protected class.
Certain unlawful acts, including knowingly providing false information to voters who are currently under criminal prosecution, result in civil actions under the law.
The bill also gives the Virginia Attorney General the power to bring civil actions if there is reason to believe that an electoral law has been violated and the rights of an elector or group of voters are affected. Civil fines are payable into a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established by the bill.
HB-1890’s sponsor, Delegate Cia Price (D-Newport News) noted:
[T]Here there are still attacks on the right to vote that can lead to the suppression, discrimination and intimidation of voters. … We have to be clear that this is not wanted.
Price also said she had compiled examples of voter repression, ranging from moving polling stations off public transport or from a community center to a sheriff’s office.
Postal voting in general
HB-1888 is a major postal ballot bill approved by the House of Representatives.
- Drop-off points for the return of voting slips.
- a central electoral district for absenteeism in each location.
- Start of processing postal ballot papers in the central electoral districts before the end of the polls, but no ballot papers may be sent outside the central electoral district before the end of the polls
- General registrars report personally submitted postal voting slips early on separately from all other postal voting slips.
- a ballot marking tool with screen reader assistive technology made available to postal voters with a print disability.
This bill also requires that a voter who has requested and received a postal vote can instead provisionally vote at their polling station on election day.
Sunday voting with local option
After HB-1968, every place (like Arlington) would have the option of offering a personal postal vote on Sundays. “It will be less of a burden not only to people standing in line, but also to people who work in the registrar’s office and are searched on Saturday,” said bill sponsor Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico).
End of Virginia Automatic Lifetime Disenfranchisement of Offenders
In most states, criminals automatically get their voting rights back upon completion of their sentences. However, under current Virginia law, the governor must take steps to restore these rights. Current Virginia law is rightly considered a relic of a Jim Crow era system designed to suppress the black voice.
Governor Northam and several Democratic lawmakers in Virginia are seeking a constitutional amendment to be passed in Virginia to adopt the auto-recovery approach.
Democrats led by the passage of many voting laws in 2020. In 2021, the Democrats built on this earlier dynamic by introducing new bills to further increase the number of legally eligible voters. All of these new bills should be waived.
Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) of the Arlington County Board and co-chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) of the Arlington School Board. He is also a past chairman of the Arlington County’s Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a past member of the Central Committee of the Virginia Democratic Party (DPVA). He currently serves on the board of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, supporting, and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.
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