Voting Rights Act of Virginia

HERRING PRAISES ENACTMENT OF VIRGINIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT INCLUDING TOOLS FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL TO PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS

RICHMOND (March 31, 2021) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the below statement following the signing of the Virginia Voting Rights Act, historic legislation that enhances and strengthens voter protections in the Commonwealth and empowers the attorney general of Virginia to enforce the protections included in the Act:
 
“Strengthened, enhanced voter protections are crucial to ensuring that every eligible Virginian who wants to vote can,” said Attorney General Herring. “For too long, Virginia has been on the wrong side of history – implementing restrictive and oftentimes discriminatory voting measures with the goal of disenfranchising whole sections of the population. With the Virginia Voting Rights Act, voters in the Commonwealth can be assured that if they want to vote they can, and that their vote will count.
 
“I’m especially proud that my office will play a role in helping local and state elections officials enforce these new voting protections, as well as investigate any instances of discriminatory conduct.
 
“I want to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate as well as the many voting rights advocates for their hard work on getting this historic legislation passed. Voting is a fundamental right that we should always strive to make as easy as possible.”
 
Attorney General Herring and his team worked closely with the two sponsors of the legislation Delegate Marcia Price (HB1890) and Senator Jennifer McClellan (SB1395), as well as voting rights advocates, to include a provision in the legislation making the Office of the Attorney General a main enforcer of the Virginia Voting Rights Act.
 
Protecting Virginians voting rights has been a top priority for Attorney General Herring during his time in office. During the COVID pandemic, Attorney General Herring has worked hard to ensure that all Virginians could vote safely and easily, regardless of how they chose to vote, and protect voters from illegal harassment or intimidation at the polls.
 
Because of all the work that Attorney General Herring and his team did in preparation for Election Day 2020, including making it clear that absolutely no voter intimidation would be tolerated in Virginia and preparing and planning for any and all outcomes or potential legal challenges, the Commonwealth saw a remarkably smooth and uneventful Election day. In addition to the OAG attorneys who normally represent the Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, Attorney General Herring assembled a multidisciplinary team of attorneys from his Civil Litigation and Public Safety Divisions, Solicitor General’s Office, and other divisions across the OAG, who were on standby, ready to jump into action at a moment’s notice should the need have arisen. The OAG also had lawyers in every corner of the Commonwealth who were prepared to go into court to handle any potential legal challenges.
 
Virginia also saw historic turnout during last year’s election, especially in early and absentee voting. This increase in voter participation was really possible in part because of Attorney General Herring's work to make voting as easy and safe as possible during this unprecedented election cycle by crafting agreements to waive the witness signature on absentee ballots, making it easier for disabled Virginians to vote safely at home, extending the voter registration deadline, and blocking the drastic operational changes at the USPS.
 
Last year’s election cycle brought numerous challenges that prompted Attorney General Herring and his team to develop solutions and put out guidance to make sure every Virginian had a safe, comfortable, easy voting experience, whether they chose to vote early absentee, early in person, or on Election Day.
 
Attorney General Herring and his team negotiated options to promote safe, secure voting for Virginians who could not or did not want to risk their health to vote in person including:
  • An agreement that waived the witness requirement for absentee ballots for Virginians who feared for their safety voting in person
  • An agreement that made it easier for Virginians with disabilities to participate in the election safely at home
 
Attorney General Herring also successfully blocked the Trump Administration's drastic operational changes to the U.S. Postal Service, when a federal judge granted his motion for preliminary injunction, explicitly saying in his order that, “at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement.”
 
Additionally, Attorney General Herring put a lot of emphasis on ensuring that Virginians felt comfortable and protected at polling places across the Commonwealth by:

Lawmakers Advance Voting Rights Act of Virginia

By Cierra Parks, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- On the first day of Black History Month, legislators advanced a bill to help ensure voter protection for Virginia citizens. 

House Bill 1890, also known as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, cleared the House in a 55-45 vote. 

Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, modeled the bill after the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Price’s bill aims to eliminate voter suppression, intimidation and discrimination through changes in voting laws and practices by election officials. 

“Though the original Voting Rights Act was passed on the federal level in 1965, there are still attacks on voting rights today that can result in voter suppression, discrimination and intimidation,” Price said during the bill’s hearing. “We need to be clear that this is not welcome in our great commonwealth.”

 The bill prohibits localities from influencing the results of elections by “diluting or abridging the rights of voters who are from a protected class.” The measure defines the protected class as a group of citizens protected from discrimination based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. 

The bill also requires voting materials to be made in languages other than English if certain criteria are met. 

“HB 1890 requires that changes to voting laws and regulations be advertised in advance for public comment and evaluated for impact on Black, Indigenous and people of color communities,” Price said while speaking about the bill. 

The bill allows the attorney general to sue if a locality or official violates election laws. Fees or fines that are won in the lawsuit will go to a Voter Education and Outreach Fund established pursuant to the bill’s passage. The fine for a first offense can not exceed $50,000 and fines for a second offense can not exceed $100,000.

Barbara Tabb, president of the Virginia Electoral Board Association, believes that attaching fines to the bill has the potential to scare off election officers.

“This will result in definitely a much harder time in recruiting our election officials,” Tabb said. "That’s my concern about it.”

Price said this bill is important because the attack on the Voting Rights Act has not stopped since 1965. She said the landmark law was “gutted” on the federal level with the Shelby County v. Holder case in 2013.

“What this [HB 1890] will do is restore some of those protections and allow for Virginia to say, ‘We believe in the full Voting Rights Act and we know that it’s needed,’” Price said 

Legislators have passed a number of recent laws to make voting easier, including making Election Day a holiday, allowing early, in-person voting and permitting no-excuse absentee voting. 

Price said she compiled examples of voter suppression ranging from moving polling places off public transit lines, or from a community center to a sheriff’s office.

“Voter suppression doesn't always look like taking a box of ballots and throwing it out,” she said. “It can be implicit, it can be unintentional.”

Price said she worked with several groups to ensure the bill ends discrimination and voter suppression. In addition to community advocates, she consulted with lawyers currently representing impacted voters, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Advancement Project and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Senate Bill 1395, the sister bill in the Senate, was introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee. 

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