Virginia

Articles about voting issues in Virginia.

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.” Read More

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. Read More

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.

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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. Read More

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.” Read More

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. Read More

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.” Read More

Virginia: GOP seeks to keep witness requirement for absentee ballots | Amy Friedenberger/Roanoke Times

The Republican Party of Virginia is seeking to intervene in a federal lawsuit trying to waive the requirement that a witness sign absentee ballots sent in the mail for the June primaries.

The state party argued in a court filing Wednesday that removing the witness requirement will harm the integrity of the June 23 primaries and will increase the risk of people casting ballots who are not permitted to vote.

State Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, announced Tuesday that Virginia reached an agreement to waive the witness requirement. However, the court still needs to issue a ruling and aimed to resolve the matter next week.

The state GOP argued it has a right to defend the nomination process as well as the competitive environment and integrity of the election.

Republicans will pick a U.S. Senate nominee in June. Primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives include Democrats in the 5th Congressional District — which includes Franklin County and part of Bedford County — choosing a candidate to compete in the November general election.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of three voters and the League of Women Voters in U.S. District Court in Lynchburg. It would 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. The ACLU argued 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 is one of 11 states that require witnesses for absentee voters.

There have been other efforts from Democrats and civic organizations to ease restrictions for mail-in ballots. There is no evidence of widespread mail voting fraud.

Full Article: Virginia GOP seeks to keep witness requirement for absentee ballots | Local News | roanoke.com.

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.” Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

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. Read More

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? Read More

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.” Read More

Virginia: Mobile Voting Proposal Has Lawmakers Worried | Danny Bradbury/Infosecurity Magazine

Mobile voting is coming to the US, but is that wise? A proposed Senate bill in West Virginia will introduce electronic voting for people with disabilities, enabling them to cast their vote in the 2020 US election even when they can’t get to a voting station. According to local media, local officials are likely to use an existing mobile tool called Voatz, which allows people to place electronic votes using their smartphones. It’s an app that officials in Virginia already use to register votes for overseas military personnel. However, the use of any Internet-based voting tool goes directly against the advice of the National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine. In September 2018, it published a report that said: “At the present time, the Internet (or any network connected to the Internet) should not be used for the return of marked ballots. Further, Internet voting should not be used in the future until and unless very robust guarantees of security and verifiability are developed and in place, as no known technology guarantees the secrecy, security, and verifiability of a marked ballot transmitted over the internet.” Read More

Virginia: Months from 2020 election, Virginia updates cybersecurity, voting equipment rules | Max Smith/WTOP

Virginia elections officials are taking new cybersecurity steps as part of new voting-equipment policies ahead of the 2020 presidential election. More significant security measures are planned starting in 2021. Under new plans for voting systems and electronic poll books that are set to be adopted by the State Board of Elections next week, the companies that make voting machines and the check-in systems used by local elections officials in the state will update all existing software to at least meet 2015 standards. “In order to ensure equipment security during the 2020 November Presidential election, the Department has worked with the election vendor community to develop an implementation plan to upgrade localities to standardized versions of equipment,” said briefing documents for the board. The transition plan is meant to keep costs and a last-minute rush by localities to a minimum. The Democratic presidential primary is March 3. There are town elections in May, followed by the congressional primaries in June and the general election in November. Read More

Virginia: State Board of Elections Approves 2020 Election Cybersecurity Standards | The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

The Virginia State Board of Elections on Monday unanimously passed minimum security standards for all Virginia elections administrators to follow beginning next year. In 2019, the General Assembly passed HB 2178, calling for new, modern cyber security standards that must be met throughout the Commonwealth before systems are allowed to access Virginia’s election database, according to a news release from the state board. Since July, the Department of Elections along with a workgroup comprised of local government IT professionals and general registrars have met to compose a list of standards that will help to ensure the integrity of Virginia’s voter registration system. These new minimum security requirements for election administrators include, but are not limited to: setting new standards for creating secure passwords, requiring an increased emphasis on utilizing anti-virus protection on their election systems, and developing and training on incident response plans, the release stated. Read More

Virginia: State Board of Elections approves election security standards for 2020 | Augusta Free Press

The Virginia State Board of Elections unanimously passed minimum security standards for all Virginia elections administrators to follow beginning next year. In 2019, the General Assembly passed HB 2178; this legislation called for new, modern cyber security standards that must be met throughout the Commonwealth before systems are allowed to access Virginia’s election database. Since July, the Department of Elections along with a workgroup comprised of local government IT professionals and general registrars have met to compose a list of standards that will help to ensure the integrity of Virginia’s voter registration system. These new minimum security requirements for election administrators include, but are not limited to: setting new standards for creating secure passwords, requiring an increased emphasis on utilizing anti-virus protection on their election systems, and developing and training on incident response plans. Read More

Virginia: Registrar: Data glitch affected some Stafford ballots, but not enough to change election | James Scott Baron/The Free Lance-Star

Several Stafford County voters claim they were given the wrong ballot at the polls Tuesday, while others say their ballot was missing information. According to county voting officials, a precinct chief reported that some voters checking in at the polls were given incorrect ballots. “Our records reflect that 281 ballots were cast within the six affected precincts from the opening of the polls at 6 a.m. until the resolution of this issue by no later than 6:30 a.m.,” County Registrar Anna Rainey wrote in an email. Six precincts were affected: Hartwood, Simpson and College in the Hartwood District; Griffis and Barrett in the Griffis–Widewater District; and Whitson in the Garrisonville District. All of the precincts affected were split precincts, where voters are given different ballots based on which House of Delegates or state Senate district they live in. Rainey reports the number of affected ballots was between 66 and 281 in legislative races only. No local races were affected. The 30-minute glitch was caused by a data transfer issue to the polls’ computer printers. Those printers help voting officials identify which ballot matches the voter’s precinct. Read More

Virginia: We now know that Russia specifically targeted Virginia elections in 2016 | Mike Valerio/WUSA

Russian hackers with the Kremlin’s military intelligence unit targeted Virginia’s election infrastructure in 2016 – a cyber operation now confirmed by current and former state election officials. The Russian effort searched for vulnerabilities within Virginia’s online election infrastructure, authorities familiar with the matter said. The specific Russian actions targeting Virginia have not been previously reported. Analysts within the Department of Homeland Security eventually traced the suspicious activity to the GRU, the Russian military spy agency. The attempts to break into Virginia’s election systems did not change any votes, steal any personal information, or affect any voting during the presidential election, the officials stressed. Yet Richmond first received notice of the Russian reconnaissance only after hackers looked for weaknesses within the state’s election websites. Federal investigators disseminated a critical cyber bulletin known as a FLASH alert only days after malicious actors broke into Illinois’s voter database in the summer of 2016. The alert detailed how the Illinois Board of Elections reported an unusual surge in online traffic – traffic later traced back to Russia. Read More