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2017-5-17

James Wesley “Bootsie” Harrell

James Wesley “Bootsie” Harrell, 72, of Jarratt, passed away Sunday, May 14, 2017. He was the son of the late Gordon Bryant Harrell, Sr. and Nora Gilliam Harrell and was also preceded in death by his sister, Virginia Ann Clapper and his brothers, Gordon B. Harrell, Jr. and Leon “Fuzzy” Harrell. Bootsie was a member of Lebanon United Methodist Church and had been an avid outdoorsman and particularly loved squirrel hunting and life on the farm. He loved his family and was noted for his knowledge of the Civil War especially the local history. He is survived by a number of nieces and nephews and a large extended family including his special friend and caregiver, Martha E. Bradley; sister-in-law, Virginia M. Harrell and devoted first cousin and friend, Ronnie Bell. The family will receive friends Thursday, May 18 at Owen Funeral Home, 303 S. Halifax Rd, Jarratt, Virginia. A graveside funeral will be held at a later date at Greensville Memorial Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Lebanon United Methodist Church, c/o Lou Harrell, 25123 Blue Star Hwy., Jarratt, Virginia 23867. Online condolences may be shared with the family at www.owenfh.com

KAINE & TESTER INTRODUCE BILL TO PROTECT FEDERAL STUDENT AID FOR GOLD STAR FAMILIES

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and co-chair of the Senate Military Families Caucus, and Jon Tester (D-MT), ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the Protect our Gold Star Families’ Education Act, legislation that wouldexpand the Pell Grant program to include the children and dependents of those killed in action in Iraq or Afghanistan after September 11, 2001 to offset their educational expenses.

Currently, students whose parents died as a result of military service in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11 are eligible to receive federal student aid for postsecondary education that is equivalent to the maximum Pell Grant award through the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. However, as a result of sequestration, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter in May 2016 to institutions requiring them to reduce the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant awards by about 7% (or roughly $400 per recipient) for the 2016-2017 award year. The Protect our Gold Star Families’ Education Act would move the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant to the Pell Grant program to stabilize the funding source for these awards and ensure Gold Star families have access to the maximum the grant funding available. 

“Our Gold Star families have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country and ensuring they have access to a quality college education is the right thing to do,” Kaine said. “Moving these grants under the Pell program will provide more security to Gold Star families and help ease the burden of college costs. As more of our post-9/11 Gold Star children are starting to reach college age, now is the right time to improve the grant system.”  

“College should never be out-of-reach for families who have sacrificed so much for our freedom,” said Tester. “This bill is an important token of our appreciation to the Gold Star families who gave everything for this nation.  We owe it to these children to ensure they have access to a quality education that can help them achieve the best possible future.”  

“The American Legion understands the issues that the younger generation of veterans face today,” The American Legion said. “Ensuring that dependents of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are eligible to obtain financial assistance while attending an institution of higher learning is of great importance to this organization. We applaud Senator Tim Kaine and Senator Jon Tester for addressing this issue and support this piece of legislation.”

While Virginia public universities already offer tuition assistance to dependents whose parents were killed in action or were permanently disabled under the state’s Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program (VMSDEP), these funds could be used to offset tuition at private institutions and could also cover additional expenses, including room and board, books, and supplies. Over 500 Virginians have attended or are currently attending college at public universities with assistance through VMSDEP and would qualify for these Pell Grants as well. 

Illegal voting in Virginia? Yes. Massive? Doubtful.

By Mary Lee Clark and Tyler Hammel, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – For years, Republicans have loudly proclaimed that voter fraud is widespread in U.S. elections – and just as adamantly, Democrats have insisted that such allegations are nonsense.

Last fall, a pair of groups supported by conservatives released a report with the sensational title “Alien Invasion in Virginia: The discovery and coverup of noncitizen registration and voting.” It said illegal voting is a “massive problem”:

“In our small sample of just eight Virginia counties who responded to our public inspection requests, we found 1046 aliens who registered to vote illegally,” the study said.

“The problem is most certainly exponentially worse because we have no data regarding aliens on the registration rolls for the other 125 Virginia localities. Even in this small sample, when the voting history of this small sample of alien registrants is examined, nearly 200 verified ballots were cast before they were removed from the rolls. Each one of them is likely a felony.”

The report’s startling claims gained traction on some conservative websites as evidence of a rigged election system but were dismissed by Democrats as fiction from the far-right. The study made a splash in Virginia media but was quickly lost in the partisan noise of the presidential election.

In recent weeks, Capital News Service attempted to replicate the study’s methods and found that some noncitizens have indeed voted in Virginia, though not on a massive scale. Using the Freedom of Information Act, voter registration records and voter history data, CNS found that:

  • About 240 people who weren’t citizens had been registered to vote in 10 localities, mostly in Northern Virginia and the Richmond area.
  • 28 of these noncitizens actually voted in an election before they were removed from the voter registration rolls.
  • They cast a total of more than 100 ballots.

CNS did not find evidence that noncitizens voted in massive numbers or tipped an election, as some Republicans have alleged. Indeed, half of the noncitizens who voted in a party primary voted in a Republican primary. However, the records seem to contradict Democrats’ assertion that voter fraud is nonexistent.

Origins of the ‘Alien Invasion’ report

The “Alien Invasion” study was produced by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm based in Indiana, and the Virginia Voter Alliance, which describes itself as a nonpartisan group “dedicated to free and fair elections.”

Logan Churchwell is the foundation’s communications director and founding editor of Breitbart News Texas, a division of the far-right news network. In an email, Churchwell explained the process the foundation used in its study to determine whether noncitizens had voted.

Citing the state’s Freedom of Information Act, the foundation requested documents on people who were registered to vote but later pulled off the voter rolls after officials discovered they were not citizens.

“Once we knew that more than 1,000 voters fit this description, and knew their names, we were able to see in voter files that roughly 200 ballots had been cast from this sample,” Churchwell said.

He believes that is just the tip of the iceberg, since the study covered only a handful of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities.

“After our first survey of 10 jurisdictions, we’re now sweeping statewide,” Churchwell said. “We’re finding more voter registrations that were swept under the rug without calling the cops. We’ll be releasing an update to our study this year.”

To replicate the investigation, CNS sent Freedom of Information Act requests to the 10 localities mentioned in the foundation’s report: the counties of Prince William, Loudoun, Stafford, Bedford, Hanover, Fairfax and Chesterfield and the cities of Alexandria, Roanoke and Manassas.

The requests asked for the names of individuals who were taken off the voter registration rolls since 2015 after it was determined that they were not citizens.

The FOIA requests yielded names and other information on 243 individuals who were removed from the voter rolls because their citizenship had been questioned. Four of them were later reinstated, resulting in a final list of 239 noncitizens who had been registered voters.

But did these individuals actually vote? The answer lies in the state’s voter history database, which shows whether someone has cast a ballot in a particular election.

Reporters do not have access to that database. However, it is available to political campaigns and groups. One such group is NGP VAN, which manages data for Democrats. CNS asked a contact with access to the organization’s database to look up the voter histories of the individuals who had been dropped from Virginia’s voter rolls for not being citizens.

Of the 239 individuals, the voter history database indicated that 28 had voted in an election. In fact, 26 of them voted in last year’s general election.

For about half of these individuals, 2016 was the only election they voted in. But others had been voting for years – including one with a voting history back to 1996. In all, the 28 noncitizens were recorded as having cast a total of 120 ballots.

The CNS research did not corroborate the contention in the “Alien Invasion” report that “nearly 200 verified ballots” were cast by noncitizens before they were removed from the voter rolls. However, it seemed certain that some noncitizens have voted.

Can a noncitizen accidentally register to vote?

It’s possible for noncitizens to get on the voter registration roll by mistake. It can happen when they go to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to get a driver’s license or register an automobile.

Under the federally mandated “motor voter” system, people who go to DMV have an opportunity to register to vote. They receive a form with two checkoff questions:

  1. “Are you a citizen of the United States?”
  2. “Will you be 18 years of age on or before the next General Election day?”

People who answer “yes” to either question and fill out of the rest of the form will automatically have their name put on the voter rolls. Forms obtained by CNS show that some people who checked the “no” box on the citizenship question but completed the remainder of the form were added to the voter registration rolls.

“When it comes to registration, it’s mostly an honor system whether it’s at the DMV or not,” said Edgardo Cortés, commissioner for the Virginia Department of Elections. “There is no comprehensive list of U.S. citizens that is available anywhere.”

Thus, getting on the voter registration rolls is fairly easy. If election officials later learn that someone’s citizenship is in question, they send the person a written warning. The individual then has 14 days to verify his or her citizenship.

Cortés said law enforcement and other government agencies keep in close touch with the Virginia Department of Elections. For instance, the department is notified if someone is pulled over by police and found not to be a citizen.

Some statistics suggesting fraud seemed false

Most of the “Alien Invasion” report focused on assertions that noncitizens have registered to vote and actually voted. But the study included another alarming statement: “In some Virginia jurisdictions, the number of people registered to vote exceeds the number of citizens eligible to vote.”

State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, highlighted that claim in February in a press release to promote legislation requiring Virginians to show additional identification in order to vote. Echoing fellow Republicans at the state and national level, Obenshain said such laws are needed because voter fraud may be widespread.

“There are actually eight localities where the total number of registered voters is greater than the voting age population – the total number of Virginia citizens 18 and older – according to the census data just updated in June of 2016,” stated Obenshain, a Harrisonburg attorney. “Moreover in fifteen other localities, the number of registered voters exceeds 95% of the voting age population of those jurisdictions. Something is clearly wrong.”

It’s the purported statistics that are wrong, according to a researcher at the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia, the state’s official source of population and demographic data.

Kathryn Piper Crespin, a research and policy analyst for the Weldon Cooper Center, compared the population data for the U.S. Census Bureau to voter registration data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

“I could find no instance where voter registration in a locality exceeded that locality’s adult population,” Crespin said.

Trump claims there’s voter fraud in Virginia

Obenshain, who lost a 2013 election for attorney general to Democrat Mark Herring by 165 votes of more than 2.2 million cast, isn’t the only government official alleging voter fraud in Virginia. President Donald Trump has tweeted about the issue.

“Serious voter fraud in Virginia, New Hampshire and California – so why isn’t the media reporting on this? Serious bias – big problem!” Trump tweeted on Nov. 27.

Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by roughly 2.8 million votes last fall. However, Trump administration officials say that’s because 3 million to 5 million noncitizens voted. (Clinton beat Trump by 212,000 votes in Virginia.)

“We know for a fact, you have a massive number of noncitizens registered to vote in this country,” White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

Last week, Trump signed an executive order creating a commission to investigate voter fraud. The panel will review “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”

Vice President Mike Pence will chair the commission. As vice chairman, Trump named Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. Critics say Kobach’s agenda is to suppress the vote of minorities and other people who tend to vote Democratic.

Others have praised Virginia’s voter registration system

It is somewhat ironic that Virginia should find itself in the crosshairs over alleged voter fraud. The commonwealth has been called a model in terms of elections. According to the Election Performance Index developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts, Virginia is one of the top five states in the country for keeping complete voter registration rolls.

“We have a really comprehensive system in place in Virginia to help identify people who have moved or have died, people who are no longer eligible,” Cortés said. “We spend a lot of money, a lot of time and a lot of effort maintaining clean and accurate registration lists here. I think Virginia has been a model in those respects.”

Despite such record-keeping, Republican politicians and groups such as the Virginia Voter Alliance say the system is rife with fraud. While it seems clear some noncitizens have illegally cast votes, there’s no evidence yet of widespread fraud. But in the meantime, Republicans will continue to push for voter ID laws and other requirements that they believe would prevent noncitizens from voting.

Political parties at odds over voter ID laws

By Tyler Hammel and Mary Lee Clark, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Voter identification laws are a hot issue in Virginia and across the country. Republicans say such laws combat voter fraud, which they insist is widespread. Democrats say the laws discourage voting by minority and elderly citizens who may be less likely to have a photo ID.

 

The debate has played out in Virginia, where Republicans control the General Assembly and a Democrat is governor, with few signs of a compromise.

In 2013, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1256, which required Virginia voters to present a driver’s license, passport or other photo ID in order to cast a ballot. The bill – which was signed into law by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican – also provided free photo IDs to citizens who needed one.

Democrats challenged the law, but in December, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it. “Not only does the substance of SB 1256 not impose an undue burden on minority voting, there was no evidence to suggest racially discriminatory intent in the law’s enactment,” the Richmond-based appellate court ruled.

However, the ruling was hardly the last word on the subject.

During the 2017 legislative session, lawmakers introduced 11 bills concerning voter ID. Democrats submitted six measures to roll back the ID requirements or expand the types of IDs acceptable to election officials. Republicans sponsored five bills to make the requirements stricter, including proving citizenship before voting.

Of the bills, four Republican proposals passed. Those measures were all vetoed by the current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, and Republican legislators could not muster the two-thirds majority vote to override any of the vetoes.

The vetoed bills were:

Senate Bill 1253, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham. It sought to require electronic pollbooks to include photographs of registered voters. In rejecting the bill, McAuliffe cited administrative and privacy concerns.

House Bill 2343, by Del. Robert Bell, R-Charlottesville. It would have made the Virginia Department of Elections provide local registrars with a list of voters registered in multiple states. McAuliffe said this bill also would create an administrative burden.

HB 1428, filed by Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Glen Allen, and SB 872, by Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian. They sought to require voters applying for an absentee ballot to submit a copy of a photo ID.

When a House subcommittee held a hearing on HB 1428, Fowler said it was an effort to plug a hole in the existing voting system.

“We require folks to have a photo ID to cast a ballot here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Of course, we do not require that for an absentee ballot,” Fowler said. “I think that kind of seems like a hole in the wall, and I think with the number of people who vote absentee, we should also require a photo ID for voting absentee.”

Opponents of the legislation said it would unfairly target localities where a lot of people vote absentee, like Falls Church.

“The city had the largest turnout of absentee voters in the state in the presidential election at 25 percent. So I come here with some knowledge of how the implementation of this bill would affect us,” David Bjerke, voter registrar for Falls Church, told lawmakers. “It would do more to discourage absentee voting by mail than it would do to protect a vote.”

Not everyone involved in the election process agreed.

Clara Belle Wheeler, the vice chair of the Virginia Board of Elections, supported Fowler’s bill. She also opposed legislation that would add IDs from out-of-state colleges and state-run nursing homes to the list of identification cards acceptable at the polls.

Wheeler would like to see people present a photo ID and proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. That is the only way for registrars to verify whether the person filling out the application is a citizen, she said.

“Voter registration is based on the honor system. So if someone fills out an application and they mark that they are a citizen, the general registrar has no means of checking whether or not that person is a citizen,” Wheeler said.

She noted that photo IDs provide a means to verify citizenship because most of the documents accepted by the State Board of Elections cannot be obtained by noncitizens.

HB 1428 subsequently won approval on party-line votes in the House, 65-31, and the Senate, 21-19. But in March, McAuliffe vetoed the bill.

“The requirement would not in any way deter fraudulent voting since it provides no means of verifying the identity of the individual depicted in the submitted photograph,” McAuliffe said in his veto message.

“The right to vote is a fundamental tenet of our democracy, and we should be doing all we can to facilitate eligible citizens’ access to the ballot. This bill would undoubtedly result in the disenfranchisement of qualified eligible Virginian voters and increase the potential for costly and time-consuming litigation.”

Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center Announces April 2017 Employee of the Month

Emporia, VA – Frances Taylor has been named the Southern Virginia Regional Medical Center (SVRMC) Employee of the Month for April 2017. Ms. Taylor, who works in SVRMC’s Nutritional Services Department, has been employed at SVRMC since October 2009.

Each month employees are nominated for demonstrating excellence in one of ten Standards of Behavior; the highlighted Standard of the Month for April was the All Star Award.  Ms. Taylor’s nomination included the following statement: “Frances takes responsibility for her area, displaying a sense of ownership in the department.  She often gives credit to her co-workers instead of taking praise for her own work; displaying great commitment to her co-workers. She is always cheerful, forever dependable, and exceeds expectations on a daily basis.  She communicates well with everyone. Frances is simply a joy to have around, she is wonderful!”

As SVRMC’s April Employee of the Month, Ms. Taylor received a certificate of recognition, balloons, cookies to share with her co-workers, a cash award, and a chance to be selected as SVRMC’s 2017 Employee of the Year.

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