Months after control of Virginia’s House of Delegates was decided by a disputed, mismarked ballot, the State Board of Elections will set new ballot requirements that include clearer instructions for voters. Proposed changes to be adopted March 23 address “a need for improved clarity and additional examples” and “a need for improved usability of ballots for voters based on best practices and research,” a memo to the three-member board said. Virginia would go from more general rules about what printed ballots should look like to two specific approved forms. One of the proposed forms would include voting instructions in the leftmost column on the front of a three-column ballot. The other secondary choice would place voting instructions across the top of a two-column ballot just beneath the header that lists the date and type of election.
Articles about voting issues in Virginia.
The borders of certain voting districts in Virginia could be changed more than state lawmakers may have expected. A group known as OneVirginia2021 is spearheading the charge for redistricting, convinced that 11 of the 100 districts in the House of Delegates are unconstitutionally drawn in favor of one political party. This process, known as gerrymandering, ignores the size and shape requirements of the districts, and the group says both major parties are to blame. Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021, said the current lines are a way for politicians to create an advantage rather than playing fair.
Lawyers for the Commonwealth of Virginia appeared before the state Supreme Court Thursday arguing that legislators are legally allowed to create electoral district maps — even if the districts are not as compact as critics would hope. The case originated with a challenge to state House and Senate district maps that were drawn in 2011 and 2012. The focus in the underlying lawsuit was on 11 districts that One Virginia 2021, a bipartisan fair elections group, claims are unwieldy and fail to comport with the notion of compactness enshrined in the state constitution.
Several officials at the Virginia Department of Elections and in the City of Fredericksburg were confused about how Virginia’s district lines were defined in the years leading up to the 2017 election, according to documents obtained by WTOP through the Freedom of Information Act. That confusion likely contributed to 147 people voting in the wrong House of Delegates races Nov. 7. One of those races, along with control of the House, was decided by just 73 votes. The process is complicated, and the lines are not defined on a map but are based on the voting precincts that were in place during the most recent census. Those precinct lines immediately become out of date after any General Assembly redistricting process, since local governments are similarly required to redraw lines based on the new population information.
Virginia: Voters quietly drop lawsuit requesting new 28th District election | Fredericksburg Free Lance Star
The legal fight over an error-tainted House of Delegates election in Fredericksburg came to an official end this week. Nearly a month after the General Assembly convened, a Democratic-aligned law firm dropped its federal appeal challenging the outcome of the 28th District race between Republican Del. Bob Thomas and Democrat Joshua Cole. At least 147 voters in Fredericksburg and Stafford County had been assigned to the wrong House district in a contest Thomas won by just 73 votes, according to state elections officials. Katie Baker, a spokeswoman for House Democrats, said in an email that they look forward to winning the 28th District seat in 2019, when Cole plans to challenge Thomas again.
Virginia: Breaking logjam, Virginia House panel advances bill to establish redistricting criteria | Richmond Times-Dispatch
A bill to create a new rulebook for Virginia’s political redistricting process passed a Republican-controlled House of Delegates subcommittee early Tuesday, giving anti-gerrymandering activists an incremental win as other bills they supported were struck down. A House subcommittee on elections, usually the place where redistricting bills go to die, voted 6-0 to advance a bill to set new redistricting criteria in Virginia law as state lawmakers prepare to redraw the General Assembly and congressional maps in 2021. House Bill 1598, sponsored by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, declares that districts should respect existing political boundaries between cities, counties and towns, preserve “communities of interest” and avoid the types of odd, jagged lines lawmakers from both parties have long used to gain political advantage.
Virginia’s House of Delegates on Thursday approved a series of election law changes, some of which are specifically tied to the drama and mistakes during the Nov. 7 elections. The House unanimously approved a bill that would clearly state only one recount is permitted in each election. While that appeared to be the intent of previous laws, questions were raised about unclear portions of the code after a recount led to a tie in Virginia’s 94th District. Those questions centered on whether the loser of the random drawing should be permitted to ask for a second recount. The bill would also specify that a random drawing is the proper way to resolve a tie after a recount, and allow the loser of a random drawing to contest the election.
Virginia voters could see their own face when they check in at the polls under a bill approved along party lines by the Virginia Senate on Monday. Sen. Mark Obenshain’s proposal would have electronic poll books automatically display driver’s license photos of voters, which could eventually be used in place of Virginia’s existing voter identification requirement. “It’s not going to allow any election official to actually turn anybody away right now at all. It is simply porting those IDs over and is simply an additional deterrent to casting votes illegally,” said Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, before the 21-19 vote.
For the election-obsessed among us, the two months of turbulence that followed last November’s elections for Virginia’s House of Delegates would be hard to top for its riveting back-and-forth legal drama and fingernail-biting suspense. Now, as the nation heads into midterm elections on which might hinge party control not only of several state legislatures but also of both houses of Congress, it’s not implausible to imagine similar dramas playing out across the country. Virginia’s experience holds some key lessons that policymakers and election administrators in other states should be moving quickly to follow. … Not surprisingly, many journalists couldn’t resist the analogy to another close election that involved razor-thin margins and disputed ballots. As a New York Times headline put it in late December, “Virginia Voting Mess Was Never Supposed to Happen After Bush v. Gore.” But Virginia election officials are hardly deserving of Florida 2000-like scorn. Their administration of last November’s voting certainly wasn’t perfect; the mis-assignment of District 28 voters, for example, was a non-trivial mistake. Still, it’s important to understand some key things Virginia election officials did right that allowed them to dodge what might have been a far-worse catastrophe. The most important step Virginia took — and just in the nick of time — was to revert to paper ballots and ditch its high-tech, ATM-like voting machines.
Plans to prevent an infinite recount loop appear to be on track for passage in Richmond. On Friday, the House Privileges and Elections Committee unanimously supported a bill from Del. Marcus Simon of Falls Church that would clearly state only one recount is permitted. After a Newport News delegate race recount ended in a controversial tie, there were questions about whether state law would have allowed a second due to conflicting statutes. The full House could approve the bill next week and send it to the Senate. A bill sent to the full House — sponsored by the committee chairman, Del. Mark Cole of the Fredericksburg area — would address the issues in Cole’s district and the adjoining 28th District, where at least 147 voters cast ballots in the wrong races Nov. 7.