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Your Polling Place About Virginia Elections 2

Virginia onAir Highlights

About the US onAir Network
Democracy onAirOctober 19, 2020 (02:00)
Panel discussion about trust in elections
Democracy Squad & Mason Votes, Jennifer VictorOctober 22, 2020 (Short)

Join us at 6pm Thursday October 22, 2020 for a virtual discussion about our nation and citizens’ relationships with voting and the issues that will influence the outcome.

Register here

About this Event
In this novel national and global context, our relationship with voting is mediated by our personal and national history, our sense of time and place in society, and our multiple intersecting social and political identities. The next election will be perhaps the most consequential we have ever faced. Join University Life and MasonVotes for a Pizza & Perspectives virtual discussion about our nation and citizens’ relationships with voting and the issues that will influence the process and the outcome, with panelists Delegate Karrie Delaney, Professors Jennifer Victor and Justin Gest from the Schar School of Policy and Government, and Gary Scott, Fairfax County Registrar.

Panelists:

Karrie Delaney, House of Delegates 67th District representative

Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Associate Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government

Justin Gest, Associate Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government

Gary D. Scott, Fairfax County Director of the Office of Elections & General Registrar

See more interviews by George Mason University students with state senators and delegates in this Politician Interviews post.

Medical Doctor Running For Congress In Virginia
MSNBCOctober 20, 2020 (06:00)
The People’s Debate - Sen. Mark Warner and Daniel Gade
WTVR CBS 6 October 13, 2020 (56:00)
WATCH LIVE; Senate 2021 – VA Senate race
Mackenzie Gross, Curator; Moderator - TBDOctober 26, 2020 (00:30)
Take the US onAir Tour (coming shortly)
Democracy onAirOctober 21, 2020 (04:00)

Voting in Virginia

Federal elections on the ballot: President, US Senator, and 11 US House members

Ballot measures: Redistricting Amendment

The State Board of Elections administers elections and campaign finance laws, including the preparation of ballots and implementation of state and federal election laws (such as the Help America Vote Act).

> The Virginia onAir Hub is currently focusing on this year’s US Senate and House races. After the federal elections are concluded, Virginia onAir will focus on governance.

>  Select this link to view all the US House races in a slide show.

>  Select this link to view the US House races in an interactive map (not viewable on phones).

Virginia News & Events

The group for it is called Fair Maps VA.

The group against it is called Fair Districts VA.

Both say they’re working to end gerrymandering, and both say it’s the other guys who want to keep it around. They both use the same anti-gerrymandering talking points, like “Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia is officially against it. But two of its top figures, U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, voted for it on their own ballots already. It passed out of a Democratic-controlled General Assembly this year, but Republican leaders and conservative groups are urging their voters to support it.

Against that confusing backdrop, it’s understandable that many Virginia voters, particularly Democrats who for years have heard their party leaders talk up the urgent need for redistricting reform, don’t know what to make of ballot question 1. It asks if the state should create a 16-member, bipartisan redistricting commission to redraw Virginia’s congressional and legislative maps every decade starting in 2021 as new census data comes in.

For years, those who wanted to see redistricting power taken away from the General Assembly pushed for an independent, non-partisan commission, envisioned as a group of citizens who would draw fairer lines than self-interested politicians looking to juice their party’s numbers or protect their own seats.

The proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this year doesn’t do that, giving half the commission seats to sitting legislators and half to citizens nominated by legislators and appointed by retired judges.

That’s one of the main shortcomings some Democratic lawmakers are highlighting to argue the plan wouldn’t really reform anything, instead allowing a smaller group of politicians and the politically connected to wield redistricting power. Rather than putting a flawed plan in the Constitution and maybe improving it in time for 2031, they say, it’s better to take the time to get it right.

“People across the board that think it ought to be a citizen-led process should all vote no on this,” said Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax. “The amendment moves us in a direction that cements legislator involvement.”

That argument has been maddening for amendment supporters. If those insisting they want true independence from the General Assembly get their wish and the amendment is defeated, supporters point out, the General Assembly keeps its constitutional power to draw maps. That means no independence for the 2021 process, but a general promise to do something for 2031.

“Gerrymandering is cemented into the system now. Who do you think controls this?” said Brian Cannon, executive director of redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021. “It’s a false understanding of the status quo at best.”

OneVirginia2021 Executive Director Brian Cannon speaks at a news conference on Feb. 12 in support of a constitutional amendment on redistricting reform. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

That point is reinforced by the state’s official text explaining the amendment to voters, which says a no vote “will leave the sole responsibility for drawing the districts with the General Assembly and the governor.” Opponents have quibbled with that explanation. But it’s legally required to be both neutral and factual, and the Supreme Court of Virginia refused to hear a challenge claiming it isn’t.

Some redistricting reformers say they’d like to see something similar to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, 14-member, all-citizen panel made up of five Democrats, five Republicans and four people with no partisan affiliation. California’s application process is overseen by the state auditor, but partisan leaders have an opportunity to strike applicants they find objectionable.

Regardless of where legislators stand on how much independence from partisan players a good commission needs, there wasn’t enough support in the General Assembly to make a fully independent commission feasible for 2021.

The compromise plan that emerged was the product of a unique political moment, with control of the General Assembly up for grabs in 2019, when Republicans and Democrats weren’t sure which party was going to be in charge for the redistricting year.

Though some opponents have characterized the amendment as a scheme hatched by Republicans, the proposal for a commission with an equal number of legislators and citizens was introduced in early 2019 by Senate Democrats. That resolution became the amendment that passed a Republican-controlled legislature in 2019 and a Democratic-led one in 2020, despite the partisan power shift in between. Under Virginia’s system, it had to pass two years in a row before going to voters for a final up-or-down decision.

After passing with overwhelming bipartisan support in 2019 despite objections from about a dozen members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in the House, the amendment was almost blocked in 2020 as House Democrats abandoned it in droves. Nine House Democrats joined with 45 Republicans to pass it 54-46.

Democratic House members abandoned the proposed redistricting amendment in big numbers during a floor vote earlier this year. Just nine Democratic delegates joined with Republicans to pass it. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

If Democrats had chosen to scrap the amendment this year and start over, it would’ve killed any chance for constitutional changes in time for the 2021 process.

Several senior lawmakers said allowing some legislative role was critical to drafting something with broad, bipartisan support, the idea being that elected officials are more familiar with how redistricting works and the geography of the areas they represent.

“If you just had straight citizens, who’s to say how that’s going to turn out?” said Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, who supports the amendment and called arguments against it “pure bullsh**t” during the 2020 regular legislative session. “We did not put a provision in the bill, which some of the legislators wanted, that incumbency would be taken into effect.”

Under Republican control, the Senate passed several redistricting reform plans that routinely failed in the House. That changed in 2019, after a federal court ruled 11 majority-minority districts drawn in the Republican-led, 2011 redistricting had been unconstitutionally racially gerrymandered. That ended with the court redrawing the maps for the 2019 elections, signaling that Republicans were in serious jeopardy of losing their majority.

In an interview, Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, the House speaker in 2019, said that seeing a court-appointed expert from California redraw his district and others changed his thinking on redistricting reform. But he still felt legislators should be involved.

“They know the process,” Cox said. “It’s almost like having a commission that deals with police reform, a citizen commission, and not having anyone who’s actually been in a squad car or ever done it.”

The amendment’s critics say the bipartisan history of gerrymandering shows why they’re pushing for a stronger break from how things have been done in the past.

“To me, if you drew a map that they threw out as unconstitutional against Black people, you maybe shouldn’t be invited back to that table,” said Del. Marcia Price, D-Newport News.

Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, speaks against the proposed redistricting amendment on the House floor in March. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

During the 2020 session, Price pushed for an alternative, non-binding commission that would have included more prominent protections for minority communities. But she was forced to amend her proposal to include seats for legislators, commenting at the time that she was told she “did not have the votes” for a commission that banned legislators.

Her bill ultimately failed to pass, but many of the House Democrats now saying they can only support a truly independent commission voted for it, even with the seats for legislators added.

Simon acknowledged that a fully independent commission was a tough sell.

“It was impossible in 2019 because Republicans don’t believe in it,” he said. “It became really difficult to do in 2020 because Democrats in the Senate were wedded to their commission they had come up with.”

Others see a simple explanation for why some House Democrats are reluctant to vote for something that would force them to give up their power: They see a chance to use their hard-won majority to draw maps in their interest just like Republicans did in 2011.

“Once you come to that conclusion, you have to come up with some reasons why you’re opposed,” said Cox.

Other arguments against the amendment have centered on the perceived lack of attention to diversity and racial representation, as well as the potential role for the conservative-leaning Supreme Court of Virginia. Critics have suggested that, since either party can deadlock the commission and send the map-drawing process to the Supreme Court, Republicans might choose to take their chances with judges appointed under Republican legislatures.

Supporters have dismissed those concerns as overblown, noting the Supreme Court has recently upheld Democratic positions on major issues like a gun ban at the state Capitol and Gov. Ralph Northam’s COVID-19 shutdown orders. They also point out that the new proposed process will be public, unlike current redistricting, in which lawmakers hash out district lines behind closed doors.

Some Democrats claim they’ve already solved partisan gerrymandering by passing redistricting criteria legislation that says the statewide maps cannot “unduly favor or disfavor any political party.” But alleged violations of that broad standard may be difficult to prove or disprove, and would most likely require a ruling from the state Supreme Court, which tends to defer to legislative authority where laws are vague or ill-defined.

The amendment has been endorsed by numerous newspaper editorial pages, civic organizations and national good-government groups, including the League of Women Voters, the ACLU of Virginia, Common Cause, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

“This is the best the Democrats could do in Virginia,” David Daley, a gerrymandering expert and author of the book “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” said at a recent press event with redistricting reform supporters. “And if we’re going to have a process in Virginia in 2020 in which citizens have any seat at the table, this is the way to do it. If this does not happen, the Democrats will have complete control of the process.”

The amendment’s most prominent opponents include the Democratic Party of Virginia (which is officially urging Democrats to vote no on sample ballots and other literature), the Virginia conference of the NAACP and progressive advocacy groups like Progress Virginia and New Virginia Majority.

A recent poll conducted by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy found significant public support for the amendment, with 48 percent of voters in favor, 28 percent opposed and 24 percent undecided.

Though some party leaders have flipped their positions on redistricting reform, the poll suggested rank-and-file voters may not be getting the message. It found 64 percent of likely Democratic voters in favor of the amendment, and Republicans more likely to oppose it.

Still, support for the amendment was weaker than what prior polls on redistricting reform have shown.

“Virginians are learning that Amendment 1 is not independent, nor is it non-partisan,” Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, said in a statement released by anti-amendment group Fair Districts VA.

Amendment supporters are cautiously optimistic that it will pass. Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, a progressive, first-term lawmaker who was one of the nine House Democrats to vote for the amendment, said that’s what makes opposition a “safe play for progressives” who “get to say they were holding out for better without being on the hook if it fails.”

“If this amendment passes there will be nowhere to hide in the next round of reform,” Hudson said. “The only step forward will be full independence. Because that’s what’s hard about the politics right now. People who want more reform and people who want none can come together to oppose the amendment. But they can’t come together on an alternative.”

How to make your vote count in Virginia
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawOctober 5, 2020 (Medium)
A voting sign at Pemberton Elementary School in Henrico,, November 5, 2019. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ for the Virginia Mercury)

Voting in Virginia was already changing even before COVID-19 arrived.

The combination of a global pandemic and some major shifts in state election laws — ushered in after Democrats took control of the General Assembly — means that when Virginians cast their ballots this year, they can expect things to be a little different.

Here’s what you need to know to make sure your vote counts in November.

When is the election and what’s on the ballot?

The election is Nov. 3.

In addition to the main event — the matchup between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden — U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., is facing off against Republican challenger Daniel Gade and all 11 of Virginia’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are on the ballot.

Voters will also be asked to weigh in on a statewide referendum to create a bipartisan redistricting commission that, if approved, would redraw the state’s political maps every 10 years using new U.S. census data. Another state referendum question proposes to create a motor vehicle tax exemption for disabled military veterans.

There are numerous other local races and issues on the ballot depending on where you live, including a special election for vacant House of Delegates seat in the Winchester area and casino referendums in several cities.

Absentee voting 

Early voting, which just got easier due to a change in state law that allows anyone to cast an absentee ballot without needing an excuse, began Sept. 18.

Officials are already seeing big spikes in absentee ballot requests as people seek safe alternatives allowing them to avoid any Election Day crowds, and asking voters to submit their ballot requests early to avoid any issues with a last-minute surge.

You can request an absentee ballot through the state’s online application system.  If you’re not sure if you’re registered to vote, you can check your status here.

What are my options?

All polling places will be open on Election Day with social distancing protocols in place, so anyone who wants to go through the typical in-person voting process can do so. As usual, polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., and anyone in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote. You can look up your polling place here.

If you choose to get an absentee ballot through the mail, there are multiple ways to return it.

You can mail it back using the provided envelope, which will include prepaid postage and a tracking code allowing you to keep tabs on your ballot through an online system called Ballot Scout.

Or you can take the ballot back yourself, dropping it off with an employee at your local election office or at one of the drop boxes the General Assembly recently approved.

If you don’t want to rely on the mail but still want to cast your ballot early, in-person absentee voting is going on now at your local elections office and satellite voting offices. You don’t have to fill out an application to cast an absentee ballot in person, you just have to verify your identity when you go.

There are some limitations on mail-in absentee ballots if it’s your first time voting in a particular locality and you registered to vote by mail. There are exemptions for people who might face particular difficulty voting in person, such as college students, military personnel and their spouses, the elderly and people with illnesses or disabilities. If it’s your first time voting in your city or county and you want to vote by mail, check with your local registrar to verify your eligibility.

What are the key deadlines?

The deadline to register to vote in November is Oct. 13.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot through the mail is Oct. 23.

The deadline to vote absentee in person is Oct. 31.

If I vote by mail, will my ballot arrive in time?

There can be complications if you wait until the last minute to mail your ballot back, and that’s a heightened concern for many this year due to slowdowns with the U.S. Postal Service.

If you want a mail-in ballot, the Postal Service recommends requesting one as early as possible and mailing it back before Election Day, preferably at least a week in advance.

In Virginia, election officials will count ballots that come in a few days after the polls close, as long as they’re postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Ballots received after noon on Nov. 6 will not be counted. Ballots with a missing or illegible postmark will be counted as long as they come in before the deadline.

Do I still need an ID to vote?

A change to state law this year means photo IDs are no longer strictly required. But if you have one, you should still bring it to streamline the process. Anyone who doesn’t have an ID can get a regular ballot, but only after they sign a statement affirming they are who they say they are.

Anyone who doesn’t have an ID and refuses to sign the statement can cast a provisional ballot, which will be set aside until election officials can determine whether the person is or isn’t a valid voter.

Other changes to state law expanded the types of identification documents that will be accepted, allowing voters to use expired driver’s licenses, bank statements, utility bills and paychecks to verify their identity. College students will also be able to use any higher education ID, regardless of whether it includes a photo or was issued by a non-Virginia school.

A complete list of acceptable IDs is available here.

(Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Three million dollars for public outreach. Nearly $2.5 million for refrigerators and thermometers. And more than $71 million for mass vaccination clinics, where hundreds of thousands of Virginians could be immunized against COVID-19.

Virginia’s plan, released to the Mercury Friday, shows the size and scale of a public health campaign designed to protect millions against a historic virus. The plan was submitted to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for review this week and remains “a living document as more information is understood, more vaccines are introduced, and any other considerations develop,” wrote Joseph Hilbert, the Virginia Department of Health’s deputy commissioner for governmental and regulatory affairs, in a Friday email.

But the plan also underscores many of the factors that health workers will contend with when it comes to distributing any future vaccine. While VDH is preparing for a potential Nov. 1 release — a date requested by the Trump administration after the president suggested a vaccine could be ready as early as this month — there’s “no absolute guarantee” of when any safe and effective immunization will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said Christy Gray, the director of the department’s division of immunization.

Federal health officials have called a release before Election Day “very unlikely.”

What’s clear is that vaccination will be incremental and unprecedented compared to any previous disease outbreaks within the last decade. Virginia developed pandemic influenza planning more than a decade ago during the H1N1 swine flu outbreak — plans that have informed some of the state’s current coronavirus procedures.

But those mass vaccination efforts were still significantly different than what’s required for the COVID-19 pandemic — a potentially deadly virus that places certain types of people, including the elderly and infirm and those with other health conditions, most at risk. Virginia’s plans call for health experts to consider infection control measures at immunization sites, raising the possibility of drive-through clinics or events at large indoor venues that leave room for social distancing.

There are also significant outstanding questions about the vaccine itself, including how many doses will initially be available. While the federal government will determine how much of the vaccine is distributed to Virginia, according to the state’s planning document, health officials are planning a phased approach under the assumption that only limited amounts will be available when it’s first released.

The initial planning scenario tasks state officials with developing priority groups for the first distribution. Under the state’s plan, those include residents at long-term care facilities — which in Virginia account for nearly 50 percent of the state’s total COVID-19 deaths, according to VDH data — as well as health care workers and “people who play a key role in keeping essential functions of society running and cannot socially distance in the workplace.”

Those positions have yet to be determined, but could include first responders, teachers and childcare providers, according to the state’s planning document. Priority consideration will also be given to other high-risk groups, including Virginians aged 65 or older, people of color — who have also been disproportionately affected by the virus — and people living in congregate living facilities such as prisons, homeless shelters, or even college campuses.

“In the event that Virginia’s allocation during Phase 1 is insufficient to vaccinate all those included in the initial populations of focus, it is important for the Virginia Unified Command to identify and estimate the subset groups within these initial populations of focus to determine who will receive the first available doses of COVID-19 vaccine,” the plan reads.

More than 20 different divisions and agencies have a role in the 60-page document, including the Virginia Department of Education and the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, which are expected to coordinate with local health departments on immunizing students and employees at K-12 schools and college campuses.

The plan calls for nearly $121 million in total spending for vaccination efforts, including more than $3.3 million for supplemental supplies such as Band-Aids, syringes and needles. The state anticipates paying nearly $40 million for a pharmacy benefits administrator to manage claims for un- and underinsured patients and distribute payments to pharmacies and other community providers for administering vaccines.

The vaccine itself will be supplied to the state free of charge, but the CDC says that administrative costs will likely be shouldered by state and local governments. Providers must vaccinate patients regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.

VDH will distribute money to local health departments to assist with mass vaccination, according to the plan. But it’s still not entirely clear how the state will fund the effort. Virginia Finance Secretary Aubrey Layne recently said that roughly $700 million in remaining federal CARES Act money could go toward the state’s immunization campaign.

Gray said another complication could be the dosages for any future immunization. Many of the vaccines currently under trial will require two doses, “separated by 21 or 28 days,” according to the plan.

“Those vaccines are not interchangeable with each other, so that’s another consideration that wasn’t necessarily the case during any previous disease outbreaks,” she added. In other words, if patients receive an initial dose of a vaccine from a certain pharmaceutical company, their doctor, pharmacist or local health department will need to follow up with them to make sure they receive a second dose of the same vaccine within a certain timeframe.

It’s an effort that requires massive coordination and also the involvement of doctors across Virginia. The state’s planning document encourages patients to be immunized at their “medical home” whenever possible, and describes the early recruitment of doctors as one of the most important early factors in mass vaccination.

Earlier this month, Virginia Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver sent a letter to providers asking them to register with the state if they planned on distributing a COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Sandy Chung, a Northern Virginia-based pediatrician and president of the Virginia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said most primary care physicians already have experience in giving out vaccinations to large number of patients, but the state is likely hoping to recruit nontraditional providers such as school systems or large employers.

“I think that’s what they’re trying to assess — which health care providers are able to do this or willing to do this,” she added. “They need to know who’s ready.”

House of Delegates members walk past the south portico around at the end of the veto session at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, VA Wednesday, April 22, 2020. The House members were meeting outside in a tent instead of the House Chamber in order to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 virus. (AP Photo/POOL, Bob Brown)

In the wee hours of an unseasonably balmy, humid Sunday in mid-March, legislative staff on the ninth and 10th floors of Capitol Square’s decrepit, old General Assembly Building had opened their windows wide to mitigate the swelter from unrelenting, clanking steam radiators. Beyond exhaustion from a week of late nights, many hours of work lay ahead for them.

Those top floors were rarefied real estate, home to the most powerful committees in state government — those with the final say over how the state spends tens of billions of dollars — and the expert staffs who did the heavy lifting. And on this last long night, days behind schedule and hours past the 2010 legislature’s scheduled final adjournment, a dozen delegates and senators cloistered behind closed doors, bickering and dickering over the fine print of what would be the $77 billion state government spending blueprint through June 2012.

It’s known as the budget conference, an innocuous-sounding insider term that means little or nothing to ordinary Virginians. But the agreement that rival House and Senate members sealed with a handshake around 2 a.m. on that warm, late-winter Sunday — and at the conclusion of budget conferences every year — was highly consequential to their daily lives from the taxes they pay to funding for their kids’ schools and everything in between. It’s no less true in the current special session as House and Senate budget negotiators try to square differing versions of a pandemic-ravaged proposed budget of $137 billion, 77 percent larger than that budget adopted 10 years earlier.

No other piece of legislation holds as much sway as state budget bills, which not only form the 24-month financial framework for the commonwealth but also supersedes other state law. That such critical legislating is done at the last minute in sometimes chaotic, often contentious late-night sessions well out of public view by sleep-starved people amid the intermingled odors of cold pizza and burned coffee did not — and should not — inspire confidence.

Nobody has seen the budget conference process from more different perspectives than Bill Leighty, an immensely accomplished senior state government veteran who cut his teeth in the 1980s with a seven-year stint on the Senate Finance Committee staff. From there, Leighty would direct the sprawling Virginia Retirement System before serving as chief of staff to two successive governors, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine.

“What makes them (budget conferences) so powerful is that what they agree on and put in the conference report goes directly to the floor and can only be voted up or down — no amendments,” said Leighty, now retired and an adviser to the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. “And, because they’re presented so late, everyone is loath to send it back to conference for a redo.”

How late? In 2010, the committee staffs had only 15 hours that Sunday to write the budget conferees’ agreement into its final form and have printed copies on all 140 legislators’ desks for that up-or-down floor vote, leaving them barely enough time to go home, change clothes and return to Capitol Square. The House and Senate convened at 5 p.m., agreed to the conferees’ work and adjourned sine die before 6.

That’s the lawmaking equivalent of driving down a twisting, one-lane mountain road on a moonless night with one working headlight and brakes that didn’t pass inspection. Yet somehow, mainly through the exacting work of highly professional staffs fighting off sleep with energy drinks and raw adrenalin, it has never jumped the guardrails and tumbled into the abyss.

Budget conferences don’t always bust their deadlines, and it’s not as though there aren’t weighty issues at play when they do. In 2010, like this year, the state was in the grips of a monstrous economic collapse that ravaged the official revenue estimates on which the budget is built. Both years forced significant cuts in state operating outlays.

In 2004, during a battle over reforms Warner proposed to fix what he called a structural imbalance in the state budget (Republicans labeled it a tax increase, and they weren’t wrong), the House and Senate deferred passage of a budget to an April special session. In the end, Warner got most of what he wanted from a GOP House and Senate through the budget bill.

Leighty recalls that budget battle as significant because of its use of the “repealer clause,” a provision in the budget that trumps statutory law. He said he authored dozens of them over his years on the Finance Committee and said the clauses can be spotted in any budget bill by looking for sections that begin with the words “Notwithstanding any other provision of law… .”

“We put all the tax changes in the (2004) budget bill so that it overrode tax law,” he said.

Opacity and even occasional sleight-of-hand is an old tradition of budget conferences. Reporters and their voice on Capitol Square — the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association — have stormed and huffed about it many times over the decades (including two years when this writer was its president) to no avail.

Over the decades, conferees have gone to bizarre, almost zany lengths to shield the byzantine proceedings from public view. In his years as a cub Finance Committee staffer, Leighty was assigned by the committee chairman, the late Sen. Ed Willey, to walk conspicuously past the cramped press filing room in the musty bowels of the Capitol with a boxload of budget documents and calculators, luring reporters in the opposite direction of where the conferees would actually meet.

“Ed Willey had one hard-and-fast rule: that the conference committee had to meet in a public building. So we picked some wonderful places: the Science Museum, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the budget offices, the Old Finance Building,” he said.

In one such cat-and-mouse adventure in the 1980s, the conferees had covertly gathered in an empty room in the then-mothballed Old Finance Building (since renovated to its former splendor and renamed the Oliver Hill Building) that sits just down the hill from the Capitol and nextdoor to the Executive Mansion. The tactic worked, Leighty recalled, until Joe Gatins, a sharp-eyed reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, spotted a single room with lights blazing in a darkened, derelict building.

“He went through the system of tunnels that connect the buildings on Capitol Square and popped up right in the middle of the conference committee,” Leighty said with a chuckle. “When he did, they scattered.”

What does the public miss in those closed cabals? It’s hard to say.

We know the items that are in conflict between the House and Senate budget bills, we know there is argument — sometimes loud enough to penetrate the closed doors — and we know there is compromise. The biggest disputes were not partisan but between House and Senate members battling over conflicting provisions in their rival budget bills. Their final resolution on those disagreements was usually pretty clear when it was over.

This week, that process starts anew, but possibly with a wrinkle. It’s not clear whether the budget conferees will gather socially distanced in person (doubtful considering that floor sessions have been conducted virtually) or via Zoom conference. And if it’s the latter, will the press (and public) be able to watch?

That’s a prospect that would have been unimaginable when Joe Gatins was sleuthing for stealthy conferees.

US election swing states: Virginia is for… Democrats?
New Statesman, Emily TamkinJuly 23, 2020 (Long)

The story of how the former Confederacy capital turned blue is one of demographic shifts, a Democratic political machine and Donald Trump.

The story of how Virginia went blue in presidential years is one of demographic shifts, a Democratic political machine and Trump. It’s the story of how a state’s voting patterns can change – and how politicians know all too well that they can change back again.

“Virginia is a blue state”, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

Virginia’s economy is, compared to elsewhere in the country, “recession resistant. That makes it an appealing place for people to move when they’re thinking about their futures,” Farnsworth explained. People move from all over the country – and indeed all over the world – to live and work in Virginia.

Here are the new laws that take effect July 1
Channel 6 Richmond, Jake BurnsJune 30, 2020 (Short)

After controlling both chambers of the state legislature and the executive mansion for the first time in a generation, hundreds of new laws passed by the Democratic controlled Virginia General Assembly and signed by Governor Ralph Northam (D) take effect July 1.

Northam signed more than 1,200 bills that cleared the General Assembly during the 2020 session.

Many of those bills are duplicates, commending resolutions, or technical tweaks to existing law. Although many Virginians might not see or know the direct impact, several bills will directly impact daily life and discussion in Virginia.

“We’re excited about what’s going to happen and what will become law at midnight,” said Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond). “We are putting Virginia on the right side of history. Although, we may be getting on the right side of history a little late for some things.”

Kaine predicts win in effort to rename bases that honor Confederates
Virginia Mercury, Allison Stevens July 13, 2020 (Medium)

Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine is preparing for battle with President Donald Trump over renaming military facilities that honor Confederates — and he’s expecting to win.

In an interview with the Mercury, Kaine said he believes the GOP-controlled Senate would override a possible presidential veto of a defense policy bill that would begin a process to rename the facilities. Doing so would require support from two-thirds of those voting.

Republicans hold 53 seats — or 53% — in the U.S. Senate. Democrats hold 233 seats — about 54% — in the U.S. House.

“I think we need to put it on his desk,” Kaine said. “If he were to veto this bill, I think we would override it.”

If the bill becomes law, it would be a major victory for the movement for racial justice and equality, which has intensified in recent months.

Suburban voters like Schmiegelow represent an existential challenge for Virginia Republicans, who haven’t won a statewide election since 2009. They’ve lost control of the executive mansion, the state legislature, and a majority of the state’s congressional seats.

The latest blow came last week when almost 1,300 bills passed by the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly went into effect. Republican laws on everything from abortion to voter ID were wiped off the book.

Part of the problem for Virginia Republicans is the president, according to Shaun Kenney, the former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.

“The suburbs just do not react well to Donald Trump in the White House,” Kenney said. “There’s just no way of getting around that.”

Ralph Northam gives coronavirus update
PBS NewsHourJune 18, 2020 (53:30)
A Message from Governor Northam on Juneteenth
Governor Ralph NorthamJune 19, 2020 (02:20)

Covid-19 and VA Governance

To understand the mind of a teacher, those of us who do other things for a living must attempt some mental gymnastics.

Let’s imagine a professional passion so acute that when the coronavirus shuttered classrooms, they pivoted with little warning or rehearsal to digitally link dozens of children from home and continue daily instruction remotely.

Close your eyes and comprehend a devotion to students so strong that you spend your personal money to supplement classroom supplies as eclectic as sanitizing wipes and Elmer’s glue, crepe paper and whiteboard markers.

Now, as days start shortening and summer bends toward autumn and a new academic calendar, imagine balancing your innate yearning for the classroom with a well-reasoned fear of a monstrously contagious, potentially deadly virus that medicine still can’t control and science doesn’t fully understand.

Finally, overlay that against the backdrop of political conflict and chaos that multiplies by the day.

Virginia prison system says active COVID-19 cases down to 22
Virginia Mercury, Ned OliverJuly 13, 2020 (Short)

The Virginia Department of Corrections says it’s down to 22 active cases of COVID-19 among inmates in the 40 prisons it operates around the state.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s secretary of public safety, Brian Moran, touted the figures Friday, which include six hospitalized prisoners and 16 still being held at various correctional facilities. He emphasized the latter number in a presentation to lawmakers.

“We have 16, let me repeat, 16 active cases in all of our correctional facilities,” he said during a joint meeting of the Senate’s judiciary and social services committees. “That’s out of 28,000 inmates, 40 correctional facilities. Sixteen — one six — active cases.”

Virginia is refusing to release information on COVID-19 outbreaks at poultry processing plants on the grounds of privacy concerns, despite a June decision to provide such data for long-term care facilities.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Mercury in June after Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration began releasing facility-specific data for nursing homes, the Virginia Department of Health said it would not provide the same information for poultry processing plants “in order to ensure that VDH is able to preserve the anonymity of individuals whose medical records have been examined during the investigation of COVID-19.”

“VDH is considering how to make the information you have requested available at the health district and/or regional level,” wrote VDH Deputy Commissioner for Governmental and Regulatory Affairs Joseph Hilbert in an email.

Neither a followup request to Hilbert nor an inquiry to the governor’s office about the justification for releasing such information for nursing homes but not poultry plants were answered.

Dr. Sterling Ransone is a family physician in Deltaville and current member of Virginia’s testing task force, a workgroup assembled in late April to boost the state’s once-sluggish COVID-19 test rates.

Twice now, in teleconferences, he’s heard what he described as “proclamations” from state officials on the number of days Virginia has gone without reported shortages of personal protective equipment.

“Quite honestly, that really concerns me,” Ransone said. “And each time, I’ve had to speak up, because the reason they’re not getting reported shortages of PPE is because we have been asked to reuse disposable equipment.”

Ransone has two N95 respirator masks, disinfected through one of the state’s Battelle decontamination systems, that he rotates throughout the week. At his office, surgical masks are reused unless they’re dirty or wet. Disposable gowns are gingerly removed and saved for future use.

Within a week after Canterbury Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center in Henrico reopened its doors to new admissions, the nursing home accepted a handful of what medical director Dr. Jim Wright referred to as “unknowns” — residents who had been transferred from the hospital without being tested for COVID-19.

The facility, which had just weathered one of the deadliest nursing home outbreaks in the country, had established its own strict testing program for patients in response. When the newly admitted residents were tested onsite, one came back positive. Luckily, Wright said, Canterbury already had a separate quarantine unit set up for new arrivals. But he still described the positive result as a “pretty tense time” for the facility, which lost a total of 51 residents to the disease.

“I am very hesitant now to accept any patient who has not had at least one test,” he added. “You just want to know what’s coming through your door.”

A little more than a month after Gov. Ralph Northam implemented a statewide mask mandate, the Virginia Department of Health has fielded more than 3,000 complaints related to the order.

Follow-up, though, has been almost universally limited to “outreach and assistance,” according to VDH and more than a dozen local health districts that fall under the department’s jurisdiction. The agency has not pursued misdemeanor charges for violations or pulled a permit for any of the businesses it regulates. “Local health districts may have provided written or given verbal warnings, which we would characterize as education,” spokeswoman Marian Hunter wrote in a Tuesday email.

Multiple districts told the Mercury that there had been few occasions of businesses refusing to comply with the order. But many said that fielding and responding to the complaints have become a significant task for local health departments, which have fielded anywhere from “10 to 15-ish” complaints, in the case of Richmond-Henrico, to “close to 100 business-related Executive Order compliance complaints” in the Central Virginia Health District where most revolve around a lack of face coverings or inadequate social distancing, according to the district’s director, Dr. Kerry Gateley.

Virginia Politics & onAir Hub

Virginia onAir is US onAir’s model of a curated state Hub. Over the past two years, George Mason University alumni, faculty, students, and staff through their GMU onAir chapter have led the development and testing of this Hub.

Virginia is located in the Southern region of the USA with Richmond as its capital. The Virginia General Assembly has 40 Senate members and 100 House of Delegate members. Ralph Northam is the current governor.  Mark Warner and Tim Kaine are its senators.

To view Virginia’s current political leaders, select the feature image or the post title above. To view leaders by position, select the three dots in the post title.

Select this link to view all US House members in a slide show.

>  Select this link to view all US House members in a map format (only in big screens).

 

US House District 2 – VA 2020

Scott Taylor vs. Elaine Luria Debate, 10/30/18
13News NowOctober 30, 2018 (51:54)
Rep. Elaine Luria presses top Navy officials
13News NowOctober 23, 2019 (15:45)

Adapted from the Washington Post:

The GOP primary to decide who will challenge Rep. Elaine Luria (D) in the military heavy 2nd District was won by Scott Taylor. Taylor, a former congressman, who lost the Virginia Beach seat to Luria in the 2018 blue wave, defeated two Republican opponents, paving the way for a rematch in November.

An uptick in anti-Trump sentiment, and a scandal over fraudulent signatures that his campaign collected to help a potential spoiler candidate get on the ballot, sunk Taylor’s campaign against Luria two years ago, analysts say.

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report considers the general election a toss-up.

US House District 5 – VA 2020

A practicing physician, Cameron Webb returned to Charlottesville where he treats patients as a general internist, teaches students and serves as the Director of Health Policy and Equity at UVA’s School of Medicine.  Cameron is running for Congress to serve his community at this critical time. In Washington, he will be a fierce advocate to ensure opportunities for health and success for all Virginians.

Bob Good is running for Congress to bring the conservative principles of financial stewardship and respect for hard working taxpayers back to Washington. President Trump’s policies have delivered a growing, vibrant economy and we must ensure that our representatives back his agenda.

 

US House District 7 – VA 2020

Abigail Spanberger took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…When she saw partisan politics threatening the country she has worked so hard to protect, she knew it was her time to stand up for the people in the 7th District.

At the in-person convention in Caroline County on July 18, Nick Freitas, Delegate from Culpeper,
received 56% of the vote on the third ballot, outlasting five challengers in his bid to secure the GOP nomination in the one-time Republican stronghold that turned blue in 2018.

In the final round of balloting, Freitas topped Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland, who received 44% of the vote. The win for Freitas, who sought the GOP U.S. Senate nomination in 2018, sets up what is likely to be a closely watched contest with Spanberger in a swing district that includes eight rural counties and large swaths of suburban Chesterfield and Henrico.

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