Virginia: Audit overwhelmingly confirms State’s election results | Graham Moomaw/The Daily Progress

A statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117% chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome. “Election officials are over 99% confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday. The only way to reach 100% certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome. The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines. Local officials throughout the state pulled a total of 1,372 ballots to measure statistical confidence in the reported results. Biden received 756 of those votes, former President Donald Trump received 572, Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen received 25 and eight ballots were cast for write-in candidates, according to the report.

Full Article: Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results | Govt. & Politics |

Virginia Department of Elections Says Audit Shows Election Integrity | Jaud Khalil/WVTF

The department collaborated with VotingWorks, a non-profit organization that helps conduct Risk-Limiting Audits, a method of assessing election systems. “Our risk measurement for the presidential election was .0000065117%,” said Ginny Vander Roest of VotingWorks in a meeting with election supervisors. “The risk measurement is the possibility that we might have missed something.” “The success of Virginia’s first statewide audit reaffirms our dedication to ensuring secure and accurate elections for our voters,” said Christopher Piper, Virginia’s Commissioner of Elections in a press release. “I am proud of the hard work that our election administrators do in the Commonwealth, and this audit further exemplifies the integrity and validity of the 2020 November General Election results.” The process of the RLA began on February 24, when Piper and others threw ten 20-sided dice to determined a random string of numbers. That string selects ballots randomly from across the commonwealth to make up a random sample of ballots. After those ballots are counted, officials compared the sample’s margin of victory to the margin from November. That comparison provides a measure of confidence that election software wasn’t faulty, either due to hardware, software, or human error. The audit does not assess the final count, but looks at the outcome of the election: a measure of confidence that the reported winner actually won. RLAs are cheaper than a recount and more accurate than a spot audit, according to Monica Childers of VotingWorks. She said this method of auditing election software provides a broader sample rather than a spot check in which a few voting machines or precincts are examined.

Full Article: Va Dept. of Elections Says Audit Shows Election Integrity | WVTF

Virginia localities participating in statewide voting audit | Brian Brehm/Winchester Star

Jurisdictions in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and throughout Virginia are taking part in a risk-limiting audit (RLA) of local voting machines. Review boards in each of the commonwealth’s 133 localities will check a sampling of ballots from the Nov. 6 presidential and senatorial elections to make sure local voting machines accurately recorded the results. Each review will be open to the public, but capacities will be limited in each jurisdiction due to social-distancing requirements necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Frederick County will conduct its RLA at 5 p.m. today in the Board of Supervisors meeting room in the county government’s administration building, 107 N. Kent St., Winchester. Winchester and Clarke County will each convene a review board at 10 a.m. Thursday. Winchester’s will meet in Winchester Circuit Court chambers in the Joint Judicial Center, 5 N. Kent St.,Winchester, and Clarke County’s will meet in Clarke County Circuit Court chambers, 102 N. Church St., Berryville. The statewide RLA is not connected to the “Stop the Steal” controversy stirred by former President Donald Trump following his Nov. 6 loss to President Joe Biden, which cast suspicions upon the accuracy of ballot results across the entire country. Rather, the audit was initiated in 2018 by the Virginia Department of Elections and incorporated into state code by the General Assembly. According to section 24.2-671.1 of the Code of Virginia, “The Department of Elections shall coordinate a post-election risk-limiting audit annually of ballot scanner machines in use in the commonwealth. … The purpose of the audits shall be to study the accuracy of ballot scanner machines.” Each locality in Virginia is being told by the state Department of Elections how many paper ballots must be matched to voting machines in order to ensure that each machine accurately recorded the votes.

Full Article: Localities participating in statewide voting audit | Winchester Star |

Virginia Department of Elections announces statewide post-election risk limiting audit | Emporia Independent Messenger

The Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) will coordinate a statewide post-election Risk Limiting Audit (RLA) of the November 2020 General Election for President and U.S. Senate. The audit was announced by Christopher Piper, Commissioner of the Department of Elections, at the Jan. 12, State Board of Elections meeting. Pursuant to Va. Code §24.2-671.1, ELECT is required to coordinate an annual post-election RLA of ballot scanner machines used in the Commonwealth of Virginia. All of the 133 localities in the Commonwealth of Virginia will be participating in the audit. ELECT is partnering with VotingWorks(, a non-profit organization, which will be assisting with the statewide audit. Based on the vote totals and voter turnout, VotingWorks projects around 1,423 ballots will need to be retrieved by localities across the Commonwealth to provide for an accurate audit.

Full Article: Virginia Department of Elections announces statewide post-election risk limiting audit | News |

Virginia to undergo statewide audit to determine integrity of 2020 presidential election | Chatham Star Tribune

The Virginia Department of Elections (ELECT) will coordinate a statewide post-election Risk Limiting Audit (RLA) of the November 2020 General Election for President and U.S. Senate. The audit was announced by Christopher Piper, commissioner of the Department of Elections, at the Jan. 12, 2021 State Board of Elections meeting. Pursuant to Va. Code §24.2-671.1, ELECT is required to coordinate an annual post-election RLA of ballot scanner machines used in the Commonwealth of Virginia. All of the 133 localities in the Commonwealth of Virginia will be participating in the audit. ELECT is partnering with VotingWorks, a non-profit organization, which will be assisting with the statewide audit. Based on the vote totals and voter turnout, VotingWorks projects around 1,423 ballots will need to be retrieved by localities across the commonwealth to provide for an accurate audit. “This statewide audit helps to support the idea that the integrity of the election process is always of the utmost importance. The Department is continually vigilant on matters related to the security and accuracy of the vote in Virginia,” Piper said. “The ability to meaningfully participate in our democracy is one of the most important rights we have as citizens, and the Department of Elections is dedicated to maintaining voter confidence in the democratic process.” A statewide audit will provide opportunities for all localities and the public to participate. The audit kicks off on Feb. 16 for the general registrars and Electoral Board members. The basic steps involved in the upcoming RLA include creating a ballot manifest—localities will create a simple spreadsheet that lists all of the containers or the batches that contain the ballots cast and how many ballots are in each batch. All types of ballots are to be included (in person, mail-in, provisional, etc.). Once the ballot manifest is completed, localities will upload the spreadsheet into VotingWorks’ audit software. VotingWorks will hold another virtual meeting Feb. 22 to generate the random seed number. The random seed number is a 20-digit number created by a roll of dice. The random seed number entered into the audit system software generates the list of ballots for retrieval by each locality. 

Full Article: Virginia to undergo statewide audit to determine integrity of 2020 presidential election | State And National |

Virginia Bill Requiring Absentee Ballots to be Recorded in Precincts Where Voters Live Moves Forward | Michael Pope/WVTF

As more and more voters move toward absentee voting, important data about the geography of elections is not being collected. Looking over a list of precincts, Republican state Senator David Sutterlein of Roanoke can make determinations about which neighborhoods are giving him strong support and which neighborhoods he might want to pay a little bit more attention to. “If something is happening in one part of the county, and we’re wondering why our votes are falling off, you go there and you try to find out, ‘What are you not being heard on,'” he explained. But the movement toward absentee voting is undercutting the ability of elected officials and journalists to examine the geography of elections. When you cast an absentee ballot, the data is usually not recorded in the precinct where you live. It’s recorded in an at-large precinct, lumping your vote in with all the other absentee votes in the county or the city. That’s why Sutterlein introduced a bill requiring all those absentee votes are recorded in the precincts where the voters live.

Full Article: Bill Requiring Absentee Ballots to be Recorded in Precincts Where Voters Live Moves Forward | WVTF

Virginia Democrats push to preserve pandemic voting access measures | Amy Friedenberger/The Roanoke Times

After the November election, legislators knew changes to Virginia’s election laws were in order. Democrats and Republicans had differing views of what those changes should be. Encouraged by a presidential election with high voter turnout, Democrats are working to codify many of the changes the state put into place for the pandemic that broadened ballot access. At the same time, they are chastising Republicans who want to roll back those changes on the basis of restoring “election integrity,” saying they shouldn’t cast doubt on voting measures that don’t contribute to widespread fraud. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly is considering several bills, such as repealing the requirement that a witness must sign an absentee ballot a voter sends in the mail, prepaid postage sent out with absentee ballots, and allowing people the opportunity to fix technical errors with their absentee ballots so they aren’t invalidated. The legislation follows significant changes Democrats made to expanding voting access last year, including expanding early voting and repealing the requirement someone must show a form of identification with a photo to vote. “Those changes marked a pretty big shift in how we do election law,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, who is carrying bills this year to make some temporary pandemic-specific changes permanent.

Full Article: Democrats push to preserve pandemic voting access measures | Local News |

Virginia Senate eases absentee voting requirements; House bans firearms at voting locations | yler Arnold/The Center Square

The Virginia Senate and House passed election-related bills Monday, including legislation that makes voting absentee easier. The Senate voted 21-19 to pass Senate Bill 1097, which would remove the requirement that all absentee ballots be filled out in the presence of a witness. The law currently requires a witness signature for an absentee ballot to be valid, although that requirement was temporarily halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would eliminate the requirement permanently. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, received substantial support from Democrats who argued it would make voting easier and more accessible. Republicans warned it could compromise election security. House Bill 2081, which passed along a similar partisan divide in the House, would prohibit the possession of firearms on or near voting locations. The bill, sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, passed the chamber in a 53-47 vote. The legislation would prohibit possession of a firearm within 40 feet of any buildings used as a polling location. It would be applicable one hour before the building is being used for that purpose until one hour after. Violations would result in a Class 1 misdemeanor. Law enforcement officers and licensed armed security officers employed at the building would be exempt from the requirement. Any person whose private property falls within 40 feet of a polling place also would be exempt while occupying that property.

Full Article: Virginia Senate eases absentee voting requirements; House bans firearms at voting locations | State |

Virginia House passes absentee voting, voter registration bills | Virginia | Tyler Arnold/The Center Square

The Virginia House unanimously passed legislation Wednesday that would let the governor extend the voter registration deadline for a person if there was an error with the voter registration system. House Bill 1810 would allow the governor to extend the registration deadline for a period of time equal to the amount of time during which the voter registration system was unavailable, rounded up to the nearest whole day. Lawmakers introduced the proposal after last year’s registration disruption when the website was down for several hours and a judge had to extend the registration deadline for 48 hours. The bill, sponsored by Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, would not compel the governor to take action. It passed the House unanimously, 98-0. The legislation has been sent over to the Senate and referred to the chamber’s Privileges and Elections Committee. Another bill to reform absentee voting, which also was sponsored by VanValkenburg, passed the House without the same bipartisan support. House Bill 1888, which passed the chamber 55-43, seeks to establish greater availability and accessibility to the absentee voting process. Under the bill, absentee ballots returned before Election Day would need to be verified for correct completion and provide the voter with the opportunity to make corrections in certain circumstances. The bill also would establish drop-off locations for voters to return absentee ballots after completing them and require every locality to establish a central absentee voter precinct, which currently is optional.

Full Article: Virginia House passes absentee voting, voter registration bills | Virginia |

Virginia: Amanda Chase, Republican contender for governor, says Trump should declare martial law | Laura Vozella/The Washington Post

State Sen. Amanda F. Chase, a brash Republican gubernatorial contender who bills herself as “Trump in heels,” called on President Trump on Tuesday to declare martial law to prevent his removal from office. One day after the electoral college formally confirmed former vice president Joe Biden’s victory over Trump, Chase (Chesterfield) doubled down on baseless allegations of election fraud in an early-morning Facebook post. “Not my President and never will be,” she wrote, referring to Biden. “The American people aren’t fools. We know you cheated to win and we’ll never accept these results. Fair elections we can accept but cheating to win; never. It’s not over yet. So thankful President Trump has a backbone and refuses to concede. President Trump should declare martial law as recommended by General Flynn.” Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser pardoned by the president, recently shared a Twitter post advocating that the president “temporarily suspend the Constitution” and declare martial law. In an interview Tuesday, Chase said she was holding out hope that Trump somehow would be declared the winner when the electoral college ballots are formally counted during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 — an all-but-impossible outcome, especially as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory for the first time since the election. Barring that extremely unlikely turn of events, Chase thinks martial law is in order.

Full Article: Amanda Chase, Republican contender for Virginia governor, says Trump should declare martial law – The Washington Post

Virginia delays statewide certification of election results, citing Richmond office’s COVID outbreak | Andrew Cain/Richmond Times-Dispatch

The State Board of Elections on Monday delayed certification of Virginia’s election results until later this week, giving additional time to the Richmond voter registrar’s office, which is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. State elections officials said they had local certification in hand from Virginia’s other 132 cities and counties and they expect to certify the state results later this week. Chris Piper, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections, told the board that, “Overall, Virginia had an incredibly successful election” with no major issues reported on Election Day, which was Nov. 3. The meeting came as President Donald Trump continues to make unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud in his loss to Joe Biden. Coming during the pandemic, Virginia’s election drew an unprecedented 2.8 million early voters, 1.8 million of them voting in person and 1 million through mailed ballots. Nearly 1.6 million people voted on Election Day. Virginia elections officials and legislators already are looking at potential changes to how registrars report results. Some Virginians were confused because Republicans dominated votes cast on Election Day, but Democrats pulled ahead in a number of contests late that night once localities reported votes cast in advance that skewed Democratic.

Full Article: Virginia delays statewide certification of election results, citing Richmond office’s COVID outbreak | Govt-and-politics |

Virginia: Laws making it easier to vote made counting harder. | Kimberly Pierceall/The Virginian-Pilot

The late-night texts from out-of-state friends and relatives watching cable news on Tuesday night were curious: Virginia? Shortly after polls closed at 7 p.m. in the commonwealth and well into the night, President Donald Trump led former Vice President Joe Biden and, in Virginia’s Senate race, Republican challenger Daniel Gade appeared to hold an advantage over Sen. Mark Warner based on the numbers populating Virginia’s Department of Elections’ ever-updating database. The Trump and Gade leads held well into the late evening, after some Virginians likely already had gone to bed, with all but one precinct reporting in many of Virginia’s localities: the central absentee precinct. That precinct was key for so many ballot decisions and candidates because it held at least 2.8 million votes as of last Saturday, and likely more as ballots wound their way from post offices to registrar offices. One would think with all those votes and all that time they would have been among the first results to be revealed come 7:01 p.m. Tuesday after polls closed in Virginia. It was far from that easy, though. Instead, despite their sizable influence on numerous ballot races, those votes were among the last to be posted, some well after an 11 p.m. deadline set by the state elections commissioner for local registrars to send in results they had in hand on Election Day. Registrars will keep counting votes that were cast by Tuesday but came in later, through noon Nov. 6.

Full Article: What happened in Virginia on Election Day? Laws making it easier to vote made counting harder. – The Virginian-Pilot – The Virginian-Pilot

Virginia: Here’s what happened to Henrico County’s ‘missing’ absentee ballots | Tom Lappas/The Henrico Citizen

There were some raised eyebrows Wednesday when Henrico Voter Registration and Elections officials realized that they had failed to report nearly 15,000 absentee ballots with a batch of other absentee votes earlier that morning. … The ballots in question all involved in-person absentee votes, he said. When a voter casts a ballot in person, he or she scans the ballot into a machine just as voters do on Election Day, and memory sticks in the machine take images of each ballot. Each machine has two sticks – a primary one and a backup, he said. Each 4 GB stick can hold about 9,000 ballots, while an 8 GB stick can hold about 17,000. As more sticks began to fill up, Coakley suggested that (instead of buying new ones) officials scan more in-person absentee ballots using a machine that typically scans only provisional ballots. On election night and well into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Coakley’s team was uploading the data from each memory stick used during the absentee process to produce an overall absentee report to send to the Virginia Department of Elections. But, he said, the report’s parameters by default were set to collect only the data from absentee machine sticks – and not from the provisional ballot machine. As a result, the ballots that had been saved on the provisional machine memory stick (just shy of 15,000) were not part of that report, Coakley said.

Full Article: Here’s what happened to Henrico’s ‘missing’ absentee ballots | The Henrico Citizen

Virginia can’t count some ballots without postmarks, judge rules | Denise LaVoie/Associated Press

A judge ruled Wednesday that Virginia elections officials cannot count absentee ballots with missing postmarks unless they can confirm the date of mailing through a barcode, granting part of an injunction requested by a conservative legal group. The Public Interest Legal Foundation sued the Virginia Department of Elections and members of the Virginia State Board of Elections earlier this month, challenging a regulation that instructed local election officials to count absentee ballots with missing or illegible postmarks — as long as the ballots are received by noon on the Friday after Election Day, Nov. 3. The lawsuit alleged that the regulation violates a 2020 state election law that says absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 6 will be counted. At issue was an instruction given to local election officials that says a ballot with an unreadable or missing postmark should still be counted if the voter signed and dated the security envelope used for absentee ballots by Election Day. A judge issued a split ruling, granting an injunction to bar enforcement of portions of the regulation that apply to ballots with missing postmarks, but denied an injunction to stop enforcement of the regulation as it applies to illegible postmarks.

Full Article: Judge: Virginia can’t count some ballots without postmarks

Virginia computers targeted by Trickbot malware before election | Mike Valerio/WUSA

Only days before the November election, Microsoft turned to a federal judge in Alexandria, arguing a ransomware network run by Russian-speaking cyber criminals posed a growing threat to the integrity of the vote. The corporation asserted its computer code is illegally used to operate Trickbot ransomware, a virus weaponized to lock electronic networks and make computers inoperable. That is, until a ransom is paid to the hackers. “Defendants have directed malicious computer code at the computers of individual users located in Virginia and the Eastern District of Virginia,” lawyers for Microsoft wrote in an October 6 federal civil complaint. “Defendants have attempted to and, in fact, have infected such user’s computers with malicious computer code.” The court this month granted approval for Microsoft to disable Trickbot servers and IP addresses, as the Pentagon’s U.S. Cyber Command launched a parallel action to neutralize the global botnet.

Full Article: Trickbot malware targeted Virginia computers before election |

Virginia audits its elections every year – but state law renders the check powerless to fix mistakes | Mike Valerio/WUSA

Each election year, Virginia conducts a meticulous audit of its election system to ensure each voter the marks on their ballot are accurately recorded by voting machines. It’s called a “risk-limiting audit” – the gold standard of election integrity checks nation-wide. Ballots are hand-examined, and compared against computer records. The process ensures that bugs in election machines, dust-blocking ballot scanners or occasional software glitches are caught and no vote is inadvertently altered. But in Virginia, this meticulous audit takes place only after the results of the November 3 election are certified. That means potentially erroneous election results cannot be changed. By state law, “an audit shall have no effect on the election results.”

Virginia: Lawsuit claims Virginia's absentee voting system violates Americans with Disabilities Act | Justin Mattingly/Richmond Times-Dispatch

A group of disability advocacy organizations and voters is suing Virginia over its absentee voting rules in advance of the November election. Five state residents and members of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia and the American Council of the Blind of Virginia say in the lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court, that they are unable to independently mark a paper ballot due to their disabilities, including blindness, and that violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit comes as Virginia prepares for an increase in absentee ballots this year, which state officials are encouraging, given the continued spread of COVID-19. “The (state’s absentee voting system) provides no alternatives to accommodate individuals with print disabilities to enable them to vote privately and independently,” the lawsuit claims. “As a result, individuals with print disabilities must choose between their health and their right to vote because they are forced to go to their local electoral board or polling place to privately and independently mark their ballots.”

Virginia: Elections Board Extends Filing Deadline for House Hopefuls | Brad Kutner/Courthouse News

The Virginia Board of Elections voted to extend a campaign filing deadline for several congressional candidates Tuesday afternoon, citing confusion caused by postponed conventions and primaries. “These requirements give certainty to the election calendar and give legitimacy to the election process,” Board of Elections Chair Robert Brink said in a meeting conducted virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. “After the deadline everyone knows who the candidates will be… but we’re not getting legitimacy or certainty.” As with every other election around the country, the outbreak of Covid-19 was linked to the mix-up. Between an executive order from Governor Ralph Northam and an order from a Richmond City judge, conventions and primary dates were pushed back to accommodate virus-related concerns. They did not, however, change the deadlines for ballot paperwork as defined by state law. Still, a 2-1 majority of the state elections board won the day after hearing from the public and candidates during the nearly hour-long hearing, voting to give candidates 10 more days to file.

Virginia: Virginia Beach congressional primary election sees technical issue with electronic pollbooks | 13newsnow

On Tuesday morning, as Virginia Beach residents headed to local polling locations to vote for congressional primary candidates, some were met with paper provisional ballots instead of the option to vote on a computer. The City of Virginia Beach wanted voters to know it’s not the voting computers that are the problem — it’s poll workers’ check-in computers, called electronic pollbooks. Donna Patterson, the city’s Voter Registrar, said offering paper provisional ballots was a “normal emergency plan.” By 2:30 p.m., all electronic pollbooks at the 91 active precincts were working properly again, Patterson said. The provisional ballots will be counted, Patterson said, but not today. Virginia Beach’s anticipated final voting results will be counted Wednesday, instead of Tuesday night. Virginia Beach spokeswoman Julie Hill said the Registrar’s Office is investigating why this happened and why the issue wasn’t caught ahead of the elections and will release a report with more details.

Virginia: Federal judge denies complaint against Virginia officials over absentee voting rules | Justin Mattingly/Richmond Times-Dispatch

A federal judge has denied a request from six Northern Virginia voters challenging Virginia election officials over the loosening of absentee voting restrictions. Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. in the Eastern District of Virginia issued the ruling Friday, saying that while the voters’ complaint “may be well-founded, the court is constrained at this time from remedying these constitutional grievances.” Jim Bopp, who represented Citizens United in the landmark 2010 campaign finance case against the Federal Elections Commission, filed the lawsuit this month on behalf of the Northern Virginia voters. In the lawsuit, they say letting residents vote absentee if they are not sick and do not have a disability encourages them to make a false statement. Under current law, Virginians must list one of a number of state-authorized excuses for why they cannot vote in person on Election Day, such as a work, family or school obligation or an out-of-town trip. Under a law that takes effect July 1, voters will be able to cast absentee ballots without providing an excuse. Gov. Ralph Northam and state election officials have encouraged voters to list “disability or illness” as their reason for requesting an absentee ballot for the June 23 congressional primaries.

Virginia: Judge will be asked to rule Virginia’s absentee ballot plan unconstitutional | Neal Augenstein/WTOP

A federal judge in Alexandria will be asked to rule Wednesday that Virginia’s emergency absentee voting plan is unconstitutional, while Attorney General Mark Herring will say the lawsuit is a Republican attempt to force residents to vote in person during the COVID-19 pandemic, or not vote at all. A lawsuit, filed in federal court in Alexandria by five residents of Fairfax County, and one from Prince William County, names Virginia’s State Board of Elections and several elections officials as the defendants. They argue the Board of Elections’ emergency plan, spurred by Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order 56, unconstitutionally widens who can cast absentee ballots in the June 23 primary elections.

 Plaintiffs Thomas Curtin, Donna Curtin, Suzanne A. Spikes, Kelley Pinzon, Tom Cranmer and Carol D. Fox cite information posted on the Virginia Department of Elections website: “Voting absentee in the coming June election is strongly encouraged. Voters may choose reason ‘2A My disability or illness’ for absentee voting in the June 2020 election due to COVID-19.” The suit opposes “allowing persons without disability or illness to vote absentee even though they are not actually ill or disabled.”

Virginia: Conservative lawsuit says absentee voting not needed for coronavirus | Denise Lavoie/Associated Press

A group of voters is suing Virginia election officials over a loosening of restrictions on absentee ballots for next month’s statewide primary, arguing that the state can’t allow voters to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to vote by mail. State elections officials and Gov. Ralph Northam have encouraged voters to use absentee ballots for the June 23 primary to prevent the spread of the virus at polling places. Because state law requires voters to list a reason why they can’t vote in person on Election Day, the Virginia State Board of Elections has advised voters they can choose the “disability or illness” option on the form. The federal lawsuit was filed last week by conservative attorney Jim Bopp on behalf of six northern Virginia voters. Bopp has filed a similar lawsuit on behalf of voters in Nevada. The Virginia lawsuit says that expanding absentee balloting is unnecessary to combat COVID-19. “The same social distancing and good hygiene practices — which are effective for preventing the spread of the virus when going out for essential services, like grocery shopping and other essential services — are also an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus for in-person voting,” the lawsuit states.

Virginia: Judge approves absentee ballot witness signature agreement for June primary | CBS19

A judge has approved an agreement to promote absentee voting by mail. According to a release, Attorney General Mark Herring announced on Tuesday the approval of his agreement to promote public health and participation in elections by encouraging absentee voting by mail in the upcoming June primaries. Under the terms of the decree, Virginia will accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness “for voters who believe they may not safely have a witness present while completing their ballot.” “This agreement is a win for Virginia voters and a win for democracy. No Virginians should ever have to put their own health and safety at risk to exercise their right to vote,” said Herring. “Now susceptible Virginians will not have to jeopardize their well-being and violate social distancing measures to cast their ballot by mail.” The judge writes that “applying the witness requirement during this pandemic would impose a serious burden on the right to vote, particularly among the elderly, immunocompromised, and other at-risk populations. Weighed against those risks, the present record reflects the likelihood that the burden would not be justified by the witness requirement’s purpose as an anti-fraud measure.”

Virginia: Absentee Ballots To Be Accepted Without Witness Signatures | Brad Kutner/Courthouse News

Virginia’s attorney general and a leading voting rights group have reached a deal to allow voters to file an absentee ballot without having a witness sign it, removing a hurdle for those most vulnerable to Covid-19. At issue were the health and safety risks involved with the state’s requirement for all absentee voters to open and fill out their ballot in front of another adult. The League of Women Voters of Virginia and three registered voters, represented by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, sued state officials this month, seeking an injunction to block the witness signature requirement in light of the ongoing pandemic. While the complaint was lobbed against the State Board of Elections and its leaders, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring authored a joint brief with the plaintiffs in support of a consent decree announced Tuesday that allows absentee ballots without witness signatures for those who believe they cannot safely have a witness present. “The fast-paced nature of this case and upcoming elections dictated a particularly short and intense negotiation period,” the brief states. “But the parties’ negotiation was conducted in good faith, involved compromises on both sides leading to a cabined, fair, adequate, and reasonable deal, and resulted in an agreement that serves the public interests of election integrity, access to the ballot, and protecting public health.”

Virginia: State Senate blocks Northam’s proposal to move May elections to November amid push for June alternative | Local News | Amy Friedenberger /Roanoke Times

Gov. Ralph Northam’s effort to move the May municipal elections to November failed late Wednesday after the state Senate rejected his recommendation. Northam wanted to postpone the May 5 elections to Nov. 3, along with the presidential and congressional contests, out of concern about people voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic. Most Democrats supported his proposal, but it gave Republicans and a few Democrats pause. Under Northam’s plan, absentee ballots that already have been cast would have been destroyed, and people would have to vote again in November. Elected officials’ with terms expiring June 30 would have seen those terms extended. The House of Delegates narrowly approved Northam’s recommendation 47-45, but the Senate declined to take up the proposal. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats. Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, who opposed Northam’s recommendation, said he was preparing legislation that he’d like to be considered in a special session. He would have proposed the May elections be moved to June 16 and that the party primary scheduled for June 9 be delayed to July 28.

Virginia: State sued over witness requirement for absentee ballots | Denise Lavoie/Associated Press

The American Civil Liberties Union on Friday asked a federal court to block Virginia election officials from requiring that absentee voters find a witness to watch them sign their ballots, citing the social distancing guidelines prompted by the coronavirus pandemic. In a lawsuit filed on behalf of three voters and the League of Women Voters, the ACLU argues the witness requirement could force absentee voters who live alone to choose between not voting or risking their health by asking another person to come to their homes to witness their signatures. Under state law, any voter who submits an absentee ballot by mail must open the envelope containing the ballot in front of another person, fill out the ballot and then ask the witness to sign the outside of the ballot envelope before it is mailed.

Virginia: Governor makes Election Day a state holiday and expands early voting | Paul LeBlanc/CNN

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Sunday that he signed a series of new measures into law aimed at expanding access to voting in the commonwealth. The new legislation will establish Election Day as a holiday, remove the requirement that voters show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot and, expand early voting to be allowed 45 days before an election without a stated reason. “Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” Northam said in a statement. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.” Several states and cities have already made Election Day a civic holiday, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New York. State offices typically close, though it depends on the state whether employees are entitled to paid time off to vote.

Virginia: Who’s Afraid of Virginia’s Split Precincts? The Resulting Anomalies From Split Precincts in Virginia’s 2017 and 2019 Elections | James Lomonosoff/State of Elections

No election is perfect. Indeed, one reason the Virginia Department of Elections regularly releases a report summing up the year’s election day complaints is likely to demonstrate the fallibility inherent in any human-run electoral system. Another reason, naturally enough, is so that the number of complaints and what matter they relate to can be tracked over time. In November 2018, as that year’s after-action report indicates, there were around 25 complaints related to “ballot” incidents. What might prompt a ballot-related complaint?

Virginia: Election officials raise questions about safety of upcoming elections | Alison Graham/The Roanoke Times

Electoral boards and registrars across the state are concerned about offering in-person voting for the upcoming May and June elections amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter sent last week, two associations asked the state to close polling locations and accept only mail-in ballots. The Voter Registrars Association of Virginia and the Virginia Electoral Board Association sent a joint letter to Chris Piper, the Virginia Department of Elections commissioner, detailing potential issues connected to in-person voting. The letter cited concerns about the safety of voters who come to polling locations, sanitizing voting machines and materials, previously closed polling locations opening to the public, and the participation of election officials, who are often seniors and retirees expected to self-quarantine. “Voters should not be forced to choose between exercising their constitutional rights and preserving their own health and that of their community,” the letter read. “Conducting the May and June elections entirely by mail is common sense and strikes the correct balance between protecting voter’s rights while simultaneously protecting their personal health.”