Voting in Virginia 1Voting in Virginia

2021 ballot: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and 100 delegates.

Ballot measures: None as yet

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).

> All city and county elections will also occur on Nov. 2, 2021.

Early voting for Virginia's November election to begin this week
WTVR, Jake BurnsSeptember 15, 2021 (Short)

RICHMOND, Va. — Early, in-person voting for the November election in Virginia begins on Friday. Registered voters can begin casting ballots at their local registrar’s office, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

The race for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and House of Delegates districts will be in the hands of voters.

Topping the ticket for Virginia Democrats are former Governor Terry McAuliffe, Delegate Hala Ayala and current Attorney General Mark Herring. McAuliffe is seeking a second term four years after leaving office because Virginia law does not allow the governor to hold office for consecutive terms.


You can find your local registrar’s office here.

More information on voting early or registering to vote this November can be found here.

Revised voting rights bill rolled out in U.S. Senate, with Manchin on board
Virginia Mercury, Ariana FigueroaSeptember 15, 2021 (Medium)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a revamped voting rights bill that would expand voter registration as well as create nonpartisan redistricting committees, but the measure is still likely to face an uphill battle in an evenly divided Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will bring the legislation to the floor of the Senate “as soon as next week,” but supporters will need the backing of 10 Republicans to advance beyond a GOP filibuster.

The 592-page bill, spearheaded by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, is the product of months-long negotiations with moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.).

Manchin wavered on an earlier package of sweeping elections reforms and voting rights initiatives, the For the People Act, that passed the House in March but stalled in the Senate. This new version has been dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act.

“I applaud Sen. Manchin for his work here,” Schumer said. “He has always said that he wants to try and bring Republicans on, and now, with the support of Democrats and this compromise bill—which Sen. Manchin had great input into — he can go forward in that regard.”

Mapping alliances in the Democratic primary
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver June 1, 2021 (Short)

Endorsements don’t necessarily mean a whole lot when it comes to determining who’s going to win an election. But they can illustrate alliances, partnerships and factions that develop over time. To that end, the chart below traces 70 endorsements by sitting state and federal elected officials in Virginia in next month’s Democratic primary for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Manipulate the visualization by clicking and dragging candidates (big circles) or their supporters (small circles); select or deselect races by clicking the legend. For best results, view on a desktop or tablet.

For years, local officials have been complaining that Virginia’s all-encompassing election software — which powers everything from voter registration to absentee ballots to list maintenance to transmission of results — is slow and hard to use.

A 2018 report from state auditors verified those frustrations, concluding the Virginia Election and Registration Information System, or VERIS, was “not sufficiently functional or reliable.”

Election administrators are planning to fix that by by replacing the IT system, a project estimated to cost between $20 million and $29 million.

Though voters may not notice a major change, officials said, the workers assisting them will hopefully have a much smoother time calling up information in the new system and making changes to a voter’s status.

As lawmakers prepare to study the prospects for campaign finance reform in Virginia, the sheer size of some checks flowing to Democratic candidates for statewide office has renewed debate about the boosts offered by a wealthy Charlottesville couple topping charts as the biggest donors in state politics.

Though they backed opposing candidates in the 2017 Democratic primary for governor, donations connected to Michael Bills, a hedge fund manager and primary backer of the advocacy group Clean Virginia, and Sonjia Smith, a philanthropist and former lawyer married to Bills, are working in tandem this year in a big way.

Smith and Clean Virginia have given a combined $1.1 million, $600,000 from Clean Virginia and $500,000 from Smith, to former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, whom they believe has the best shot at challenging former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a five-person Democratic primary field. That’s almost a third of the roughly $3.6 million in cash contributions Carroll Foy reported raising as of March 31.

Despite the early efforts to paint the Republicans’ 2021 ticket as an overwhelming lurch to the right, the slate isn’t nearly as extreme as it might’ve been. Instead of Chase, a self-described “Trump in heels,” becoming the party’s standard-bearer in a state former President Donald Trump lost twice, she logged off and went to the beach.

After failing to win a statewide election since 2009, some Republicans say they feel surprisingly good about where the party stands coming out of a chaotic unassembled convention marked by procedural confusion, mysterious attack ads and infighting.

“I think some of the ebullience you see in Republicans right now is that this could’ve been very bad. And it turned into the exact opposite,” said Shaun Kenney, a former Republican Party of Virginia executive director who has criticized fringe elements in the party. “But it’s more than just a sigh of relief. It’s like we finally know where we’re headed.”

Virginia voters identify as moderate but support progressive policies, poll finds
Capital News Service , Cameron JonesMay 12, 2021 (Short)

Virginia voters in a recent poll ranked themselves as moderate, with a slightly conservative lean, but indicated support of more progressive legislation.

The poll, released last week by Christopher Newport’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership, could be a thermometer for the upcoming November election.

Virginia voters ranked themselves an average of 5.83 on a zero to 10 scale (liberal to conservative). Republicans ranked themselves 8.11 on average, while Democrats rated themselves 3.57 on average. Independents ranked themselves 5.72.

“In this upcoming election, it is especially possible that it could be competitive,” said Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director at the Wason Center.

Those surveyed support Democrat proposals on health care, immigration, environmental policy and the economy. The policy proposal with the strongest support was Medicare for all with 76 percent support among voters. A majority of Virginians support providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (73 percent). Almost all Virginians support a pathway to citizenship for children brought to this country illegally by their parents (94 percent).

More than half of Virginians agree with implementing an environmentally friendly redesign of the state’s economy and infrastructure (65 percent); that the economic system favors the wealthy (61 percent); and that the federal minimum wage should be $15 per hour (53 percent).

VA Redistricting Commission
lowkellApril 27, 2021 (01:05:08)
Virginia Redistricting Commission
DeafJennyWittyApril 12, 2021
It was past time for the Virginia Board of Elections to crack down on lax candidates
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley April 8, 2021 (Short)

To hear some candidates tell it, a decision last week by the State Board of Elections is heavy-handed and reeks of political chicanery. The board’s move prevents a few Democratic Party challengers from getting on the primary ballot in contests for the House of Delegates this year.

The three-member board, these candidates claim, won’t provide the usual extension it has allowed previously to people who file late or incomplete reports. Three Black candidates, all facing Democratic incumbents in the primary, are the people most affected. They say the board won’t give them a “do-over” customarily granted to politicos in the past.

Two of the Democratic incumbents benefiting from this ruling are White, and one is Black.

(Five other candidates with paperwork problems — Democrats and Republicans alike — are the only people seeking their party’s nominations in their district, allowing them to be nominated for the November ballot.)

Apparently fed up with paperwork coming in late, Virginia’s State Board of Elections has refused to extend a key campaign filing deadline this year, potentially affecting eight candidates running for the House of Delegates.

Three are Democrats looking to challenge incumbent lawmakers, meaning, if the decision stands, Dels. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, may not face primary challengers after all. Because they represent strongly Democratic districts, their primary opponents being disqualified on technical grounds all but guarantees the incumbents will win re-election.

The decision to insist on meaningful deadlines comes after years of officials wrestling with how to handle paperwork errors, reflecting a growing feeling on the board that candidates must take responsibility for their own campaigns and follow through to ensure their documents get to the right place.

Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMarch 31, 2021 (Short)

statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117 percent chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome.

“Election officials are over 99 percent confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday.

The only way to reach 100 percent certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome.

The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines.

It’s already too late for Virginia to redraw political districts in time for the 2021 House of Delegates races, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to speed up its delivery of new population data means Virginia lawmakers could be voting on future maps right before the November elections.

Census officials had told states to expect to get the data by late September, but Virginia officials say they now expect to receive it by the second week of August.

Under the newly created Virginia Redistricting Commission’s constitutional timeline, receipt of the data starts a 45-day clock for the commission to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. Once the legislature received the proposed maps, it has 15 days to vote on them.

When the federal Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, Virginia was one of nine states that drew special attention due to its history of racist election laws. That burden was lifted in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided enough time had passed that Virginia and other states could stop following an old rule requiring federal permission for changes that might affect minority voters.

With the future of federal voting protections now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority, Democrats in the General Assembly have passed their own version of a voting rights act, making Virginia the first state in the South to do so.

The proposed law, now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, creates broad new protections against voter discrimination based on race, color or language. With Republicans in dozens of states looking to restrict voting access after former President Donald Trump’s loss, supporters of the Virginia legislation see it as a decisive move in the other direction.

Summary

2021 ballot: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and 100 delegates.

Ballot measures: None as yet

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).

> All city and county elections will also occur on Nov. 2, 2021.

News

Early voting for Virginia’s November election to begin this week
WTVR, Jake BurnsSeptember 15, 2021 (Short)

RICHMOND, Va. — Early, in-person voting for the November election in Virginia begins on Friday. Registered voters can begin casting ballots at their local registrar’s office, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

The race for Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General and House of Delegates districts will be in the hands of voters.

Topping the ticket for Virginia Democrats are former Governor Terry McAuliffe, Delegate Hala Ayala and current Attorney General Mark Herring. McAuliffe is seeking a second term four years after leaving office because Virginia law does not allow the governor to hold office for consecutive terms.


You can find your local registrar’s office here.

More information on voting early or registering to vote this November can be found here.

Revised voting rights bill rolled out in U.S. Senate, with Manchin on board
Virginia Mercury, Ariana FigueroaSeptember 15, 2021 (Medium)

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a revamped voting rights bill that would expand voter registration as well as create nonpartisan redistricting committees, but the measure is still likely to face an uphill battle in an evenly divided Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he will bring the legislation to the floor of the Senate “as soon as next week,” but supporters will need the backing of 10 Republicans to advance beyond a GOP filibuster.

The 592-page bill, spearheaded by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, is the product of months-long negotiations with moderate Sen. Joe Manchin III, (D-W.Va.).

Manchin wavered on an earlier package of sweeping elections reforms and voting rights initiatives, the For the People Act, that passed the House in March but stalled in the Senate. This new version has been dubbed the Freedom to Vote Act.

“I applaud Sen. Manchin for his work here,” Schumer said. “He has always said that he wants to try and bring Republicans on, and now, with the support of Democrats and this compromise bill—which Sen. Manchin had great input into — he can go forward in that regard.”

Mapping alliances in the Democratic primary
Virginia Mercury, Ned Oliver June 1, 2021 (Short)

Endorsements don’t necessarily mean a whole lot when it comes to determining who’s going to win an election. But they can illustrate alliances, partnerships and factions that develop over time. To that end, the chart below traces 70 endorsements by sitting state and federal elected officials in Virginia in next month’s Democratic primary for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Manipulate the visualization by clicking and dragging candidates (big circles) or their supporters (small circles); select or deselect races by clicking the legend. For best results, view on a desktop or tablet.

For years, local officials have been complaining that Virginia’s all-encompassing election software — which powers everything from voter registration to absentee ballots to list maintenance to transmission of results — is slow and hard to use.

A 2018 report from state auditors verified those frustrations, concluding the Virginia Election and Registration Information System, or VERIS, was “not sufficiently functional or reliable.”

Election administrators are planning to fix that by by replacing the IT system, a project estimated to cost between $20 million and $29 million.

Though voters may not notice a major change, officials said, the workers assisting them will hopefully have a much smoother time calling up information in the new system and making changes to a voter’s status.

As lawmakers prepare to study the prospects for campaign finance reform in Virginia, the sheer size of some checks flowing to Democratic candidates for statewide office has renewed debate about the boosts offered by a wealthy Charlottesville couple topping charts as the biggest donors in state politics.

Though they backed opposing candidates in the 2017 Democratic primary for governor, donations connected to Michael Bills, a hedge fund manager and primary backer of the advocacy group Clean Virginia, and Sonjia Smith, a philanthropist and former lawyer married to Bills, are working in tandem this year in a big way.

Smith and Clean Virginia have given a combined $1.1 million, $600,000 from Clean Virginia and $500,000 from Smith, to former delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, whom they believe has the best shot at challenging former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a five-person Democratic primary field. That’s almost a third of the roughly $3.6 million in cash contributions Carroll Foy reported raising as of March 31.

Despite the early efforts to paint the Republicans’ 2021 ticket as an overwhelming lurch to the right, the slate isn’t nearly as extreme as it might’ve been. Instead of Chase, a self-described “Trump in heels,” becoming the party’s standard-bearer in a state former President Donald Trump lost twice, she logged off and went to the beach.

After failing to win a statewide election since 2009, some Republicans say they feel surprisingly good about where the party stands coming out of a chaotic unassembled convention marked by procedural confusion, mysterious attack ads and infighting.

“I think some of the ebullience you see in Republicans right now is that this could’ve been very bad. And it turned into the exact opposite,” said Shaun Kenney, a former Republican Party of Virginia executive director who has criticized fringe elements in the party. “But it’s more than just a sigh of relief. It’s like we finally know where we’re headed.”

Virginia voters identify as moderate but support progressive policies, poll finds
Capital News Service , Cameron JonesMay 12, 2021 (Short)

Virginia voters in a recent poll ranked themselves as moderate, with a slightly conservative lean, but indicated support of more progressive legislation.

The poll, released last week by Christopher Newport’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership, could be a thermometer for the upcoming November election.

Virginia voters ranked themselves an average of 5.83 on a zero to 10 scale (liberal to conservative). Republicans ranked themselves 8.11 on average, while Democrats rated themselves 3.57 on average. Independents ranked themselves 5.72.

“In this upcoming election, it is especially possible that it could be competitive,” said Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director at the Wason Center.

Those surveyed support Democrat proposals on health care, immigration, environmental policy and the economy. The policy proposal with the strongest support was Medicare for all with 76 percent support among voters. A majority of Virginians support providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (73 percent). Almost all Virginians support a pathway to citizenship for children brought to this country illegally by their parents (94 percent).

More than half of Virginians agree with implementing an environmentally friendly redesign of the state’s economy and infrastructure (65 percent); that the economic system favors the wealthy (61 percent); and that the federal minimum wage should be $15 per hour (53 percent).

VA Redistricting Commission
lowkellApril 27, 2021 (01:05:08)
Virginia Redistricting Commission
DeafJennyWittyApril 12, 2021
It was past time for the Virginia Board of Elections to crack down on lax candidates
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley April 8, 2021 (Short)

To hear some candidates tell it, a decision last week by the State Board of Elections is heavy-handed and reeks of political chicanery. The board’s move prevents a few Democratic Party challengers from getting on the primary ballot in contests for the House of Delegates this year.

The three-member board, these candidates claim, won’t provide the usual extension it has allowed previously to people who file late or incomplete reports. Three Black candidates, all facing Democratic incumbents in the primary, are the people most affected. They say the board won’t give them a “do-over” customarily granted to politicos in the past.

Two of the Democratic incumbents benefiting from this ruling are White, and one is Black.

(Five other candidates with paperwork problems — Democrats and Republicans alike — are the only people seeking their party’s nominations in their district, allowing them to be nominated for the November ballot.)

Apparently fed up with paperwork coming in late, Virginia’s State Board of Elections has refused to extend a key campaign filing deadline this year, potentially affecting eight candidates running for the House of Delegates.

Three are Democrats looking to challenge incumbent lawmakers, meaning, if the decision stands, Dels. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, may not face primary challengers after all. Because they represent strongly Democratic districts, their primary opponents being disqualified on technical grounds all but guarantees the incumbents will win re-election.

The decision to insist on meaningful deadlines comes after years of officials wrestling with how to handle paperwork errors, reflecting a growing feeling on the board that candidates must take responsibility for their own campaigns and follow through to ensure their documents get to the right place.

Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMarch 31, 2021 (Short)

statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117 percent chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome.

“Election officials are over 99 percent confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday.

The only way to reach 100 percent certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome.

The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines.

It’s already too late for Virginia to redraw political districts in time for the 2021 House of Delegates races, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to speed up its delivery of new population data means Virginia lawmakers could be voting on future maps right before the November elections.

Census officials had told states to expect to get the data by late September, but Virginia officials say they now expect to receive it by the second week of August.

Under the newly created Virginia Redistricting Commission’s constitutional timeline, receipt of the data starts a 45-day clock for the commission to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. Once the legislature received the proposed maps, it has 15 days to vote on them.

When the federal Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, Virginia was one of nine states that drew special attention due to its history of racist election laws. That burden was lifted in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided enough time had passed that Virginia and other states could stop following an old rule requiring federal permission for changes that might affect minority voters.

With the future of federal voting protections now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority, Democrats in the General Assembly have passed their own version of a voting rights act, making Virginia the first state in the South to do so.

The proposed law, now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, creates broad new protections against voter discrimination based on race, color or language. With Republicans in dozens of states looking to restrict voting access after former President Donald Trump’s loss, supporters of the Virginia legislation see it as a decisive move in the other direction.

About

Source: Vote411.org

General Rules: Absentee voting is available and no excuse is required. The last day to request an absentee ballot is 11 days before an election. You can return your absentee ballot request form through mail, in person at your local elections office, or online. Voted ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by 12pm 3 days after the election in order to be counted. You can sign up to track your absentee ballot on your Department of Elections website.  Absentee ballots may be processed but not tabulated before Election Day. 

Those who requested an absentee ballot but end up voting in person: Voters must surrender their absentee ballots before receiving a regular ballot in person. If the voter does not bring their Vote by Mail ballot to the polls, they can still vote a regular ballot during the Early Voting by signing a Gold Form, but they will vote a Provisional Ballot on Election Day. However, if the pollbook indicates that the voter was not only issued a Vote by Mail ballot but also that the ballot was returned, the voter can only vote a Provisional Ballot that will be reviewed by the local Electoral Board to ensure that the individual only votes once. Do not mail a ballot and vote in person. For specifics, you can find your local county registrar contact info here.

You may now request an absentee ballot online! Just fill out and submit this form before the deadline (5pm 11 days before the election).

All voters are eligible for absentee voting either in-person or by mail for 45 days before the election. You can request your absentee ballot at any time during the year.

Voted mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and be received by your local registrar by noon on the third day after the election in order to be counted.

You can check the status of your absentee ballot with the Absentee Ballot Status Look Up tool.

As a reminder, first time voters who registered through the mail may vote absentee, but you must mail a copy of one of the below forms of ID with your absentee ballot:

  • Valid photo ID
  • Current utility bill
  • Other government document that confirms name and address

Emergency Absentee Voting

You can apply for an emergency absentee ballot if you:

  • Are hospitalized or have an illness
  • You are dealing with a hospitalization, illness or death of a spouse, child or parent
  • Have another emergency found to justify an emergency absentee ballot

If you meet these requirements, you can have a designated representative request an absentee ballot through the day before the election. You must complete the application and deliver it to the local registrar’s office by 2pm the day before the election. Voted ballots must be returned before the polls close on Election Day.

Twitter

Contact

Email: VA Board of Elections

Locations

VA Board of Elections
Washington Building, First Floor
1100 Bank Street, Richmond 23219
Phone: (800) 552-9745

Web

Government website, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook

Videos

Voter Registration Video

Registering to Vote

General Information

Who can register

To register in Virginia you must:

  • be a citizen of the United States;
  • be a resident of Virginia and of the precinct in which you want to vote;
  • be 18 years old by the next general election;
  • not have been convicted of a felony, or have had your civil rights restored; and
  • not currently be declared incapacitated by a court.

How to register

  1. Use our Register to Vote form below to fill out the National Voter Registration Form.
  2. Sign and date your form. This is very important!
  3. Mail or hand-deliver your completed form to the address we provide.
  4. Make sure you register before the voter registration deadline.

Election Day registration
N/A

Voting Rights restoration

If you have been convicted of a felony and have questions about whether you can register to vote, visit Restore Your Vote to determine your eligibility.

Registration status

Registration form

Go to Virginia Department of Elections for instructions for registering by mail or online.

if (typeof(registrationFlag) == ‘undefined’) {
RtvIframe.init({
partner: 38959,
state: “VA”
})
registrationFlag = true;
}
else
{
jQuery(‘.rockthevote-register-alt’).css(‘display’,’inline-block’);
}

Voting

General Information

Voting as a Student

Learn more from Campus Vote Project about voting for students.

Overseas and Military Voting

You are a Military or Overseas voter if you are in uniformed services, living overseas OR a spouse or dependent of a uniformed services voter. To get registered and vote, you can utilize Overseas Vote Foundation.

If you have additional questions about elections and voting overseas you can use our state specific elections official directory or contact the Overseas Vote Foundation.

Voting with Disabilities

Any person, regardless disability status, has the right to register to vote at any office or agency that provides such a service. These offices include but are not limited to: Department of Health (VDH), Department of Social Services (DSS), Department of Mental Health (DMHRSAR), Department for Rehabilitation Services (DRS), Department for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (VDDHH), and the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI).

Your local registrar’s office also has registration forms and should be able to accommodate any special needs. In addition, you can download a voter registration form from the state board of elections website.

  • Curbside voting is still available for people ages 65 and older, or any person with a disability. With the implementation of HAVA (Help America Vote Act), curbside voters may now be able to vote on an electronic voting device in lieu of a paper ballot. However, some cities continue to use paper ballots. To vote curbside you must ask your driver or other individual to inform the election officers that there is a person that wishes to vote curbside. The necessary equipment will then be brought to you in your vehicle. You shall be afforded every opportunity to vote in a private and independent fashion, but voting equipment must remain in the view of the election officers.
  • You have the right to have an election officer or other person help you vote if you are physically disabled, unable to read or unable to write. Blind voters may also have any person assist them.
  • You may have anyone who is not your employer or union representative assist you. The officer of election or other person so designated who helps you prepare your ballot shall do so in accordance with your instructions, without soliciting your vote or in any manner attempting to influence your vote, and shall not in any manner divulge or indicate, by signs or otherwise, how you voted on any office or question. For individuals with vision impairments the state board of elections works to provide large print copies of all voting related material. Your local registrar’s office should have large print versions of all materials in circulation at this time.
  • In accordance with the Help America Vote Act, Virginia is in the process of making all of its polling places fully accessible to elderly voters and voters with disabilities. If you find that your polling place is not accessible for any reason please fill out the voter accessibility feedback form. The state board of elections is dedicated to providing the best voting experience possible, and will value your input and will keep any remarks confidential.
  • In accordance with the Help America Vote Act, every polling location in Virginia must be equipped with at least one accessible voting system that will allow all voters with a disability to vote in the same private and independent manner as a voter without a disability. If you require voting assistance due to a physical disability or inability to read or write, you can receive it upon request. Any of the election officers can advise you of your rights in this area. If you have cognitive disabilities, due to any reason, you can be eligible to vote if you are not currently ruled to be mentally incompetent by a court of law.

For more information, you can utilize the American Association of People With Disabilities (AAPD) resource.

Early Voting

For more information on times and locations please contact your local registrar.

To qualify for absentee in-person voting you must be:

  • Any person who, in the regular and orderly course of his business, profession, or occupation or while on personal business or vacation, will be absent from the county or city in which he is entitled to vote;
  • Any person who is (i) a member of a uniformed service of the United States, as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 1973ff-6(7), on active duty, or (ii) a member of the merchant marine of the United States, or (iii) who temporarily resides outside of the United States, or (iv) the spouse or dependent residing with any person listed in (i), (ii), or (iii), and who will be absent on the day of the election from the county or city in which he is entitled to vote. See Absentee Voting Procedures for Overseas Personnel (Military & Non-Military)
  • Any student attending a school or institution of learning, or his spouse, who will be absent on the day of election from the county or city in which he is entitled to vote;
  • Any person who is unable to go in person to the polls on the day of election because of a disability, illness or pregnancy ;
  • Any person who is confined while awaiting trial or for having been convicted of a misdemeanor, provided that the trial or release date is scheduled on or after the third day preceding the election. Any person who is awaiting trial and is a resident of the county or city where he is confined shall, on his request, be taken to the polls to vote on election day if his trial date is postponed and he did not have an opportunity to vote absentee;
  • Any person who is a member of an electoral board, registrar, officer of election, or custodian of voting equipment;
  • Any person serving as a designated representative of a political party, independent candidate or candidate in a political party;
  • Any duly registered person who is unable to go in person to the polls on the day of the election because he is primarily and personally responsible for the care of an ill or disabled family member who is confined at home.
  • Any duly registered person who is unable to go in person to the polls on the day of the election because of an obligation occasioned by his religion.
  • Any person who, in the regular and orderly course of his business, profession, or occupation, will be at his place of work and commuting to and from his home to his place of work for eleven or more hours of the thirteen that the polls are open (6:00 AM to 7:00 PM).
  • Certain first responders who meet code definitions for law-enforcement officers, firefighters, search and rescue personnel and emergency medical services personnel.
  • Any registered and qualified voter may request a mail ballot for presidential and vice-presidential electors only by writing across the top of their absentee application “request ballot for presidential electors only.” A voter who votes a “presidential only” ballot may not later decide to vote the rest of the ballot. The same procedures and deadlines apply as for other absentee applications and ballots. Please note: When completing your absentee ballot application, reason 7A should only be used by voters who have moved to another state (away from Virginia) less than 30 days before the presidential election. This reason code should not be selected by voters that do not intend to move to another state less than 30 days prior to the election.

The electoral board will usually make ballots available for absentee voting 45 days prior to Election Day and ending 3 days before Election Day.

Vote by Mail (Absentee)

Absentee ballot process

Absentee voting is available and no excuse is required. The last day to request an absentee ballot is 11 days before the election (October 23rd, 2020). You can return your absentee ballot request form through mail, in person at your local elections office, or online. Voted ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by 12pm 3 days after the election in order to be counted.

ALERT: Due to COVID-19 (coronavirus), voters mailing absentee ballots for the November General Election do NOT need a witness. Please contact the Board of Elections for more information.

You may now request an absentee ballot online! Just fill out and submit this form before the deadline (5pm 11 days before the election).

All voters are eligible for absentee voting either in-person or by mail for 45 days before the election. You can request your absentee ballot at any time during the year.

Voted mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and be received by your local registrar by noon on the third day after the election in order to be counted.

You can check the status of your absentee ballot with the Absentee Ballot Status Look Up tool.

As a reminder, first time voters who registered through the mail may vote absentee, but you must mail a copy of one of the below forms of ID with your absentee ballot:

  • Valid photo ID
  • Current utility bill
  • Other government document that confirms name and address

Emergency Absentee Voting

You can apply for an emergency absentee ballot if you:

  • Are hospitalized or have an illness
  • You are dealing with a hospitalization, illness or death of a spouse, child or parent
  • Have another emergency found to justify an emergency absentee ballot

If you meet these requirements, you can have a designated representative request an absentee ballot through the day before the election. You must complete the application and deliver it to the local registrar’s office by 2pm the day before the election. Voted ballots must be returned before the polls close on Election Day.

How to get Absentee ballot

  1. Use our Absentee Ballot Form below to prepare your application.
  2. Sign and date the form. This is very important!
  3. Return your completed application to your Local Election Office as soon as possible. We’ll provide the mailing address for you.
  4. All Local Election Offices will accept mailed or hand-delivered forms. If it’s close to the deadline, call and see if your Local Election Office will let you fax or email the application.
  5. Make sure your application is received by the deadline. Your application must actually arrive by this time — simply being postmarked by the deadline is insufficient.
  6. Please contact your Local Election Office if you have any further questions about the exact process.

What to do next

  1. Once you receive the ballot, carefully read and follow the instructions.
  2. Sign and date where indicated.
  3. Mail your voted ballot back to the address indicated on the return envelope.
  4. Your voted ballot must arrive by the deadline or it will not be counted.

Absentee ballot application deadline

  • In Person: 3 days before Election Day.
  • By Mail: 7 days before Election Day.
  • Online: 7 days before Election Day.

Absentee ballot submission deadline

Election Day

 

Absentee Ballot (form)

Elections Alert (Form)

Pollling Information

Polling Place Locator

You can find your polling place by utilizing your state resource.

If you have further questions on your polling place location, please contact your local election office.

Polling Place Hours

Polls are open from 6:00 am to 7:00 pm.

Poll Worker Information

Visit www.workelections.com to find localized information for becoming a poll worker in your area.

In order to be a poll worker in Virginia:

  • You must be registered to vote in Virginia
  • You will be entitled to compensation
  • You must be at least 18 years of age
  • Political affiliation generally required
  • You must complete required training.
  • Must be a US citizen
  • You cannot hold an elected office or be the employee of an elected official
  • You must be able to speak, read and write English

To sign up, contact your local board of elections.

State Board of Elections

The State Board of Elections is authorized to supervise, coordinate, and adopt regulations governing the work of local electoral boards, registrars, and officers of election; to provide electronic application for voter registration and delivery of absentee ballots to eligible military and overseas voters; to establish and maintain a statewide automated voter registration system to include procedures for ascertaining current addresses of registrants; to prescribe standard forms for registration, transfer and identification of voters; and to require cancellation of records for registrants no longer qualified. Code of VirginiaTitle 24.2, Chapters 14 and 4.1. The Department of Elections conducts the board’s administrative and programmatic operations and discharges the board’s duties consistent with delegated authority.

Commissioners

Christopher E. “Chris” Piper has been appointed as the Commissioner.

Commissioner, Virginia Department of Elections
Deputy Commissioner, Virginia Department of Elections

 

Litigation

Source: Wikipedia

The Virginia State Board of Elections has been a party in a number of lawsuits.

Sarvis v. Judd

In July 2014, The Rutherford Institute supported the Libertarian Party of Virginia and alleged Virginia ballot laws favored “the election chances of Democrat and Republican candidates at the expense of Libertarian Party and independent candidates.”

In Robert C. Sarvis, et al. v. Charles E. Judd, et al, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Libertarian Party of Virginia, several Libertarian Party candidates and an independent (non-party) candidate for public office in the November 2014 general election. The lawsuit challenged the Virginia State Board of Elections and the laws which require minor-party candidates to gather signatures on petitions to achieve ballot access as well as the laws which require minor-party and independent candidates’ names to be placed below those of major-party candidates on the ballot.

Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Judd

In 2013, the ACLU supported the Libertarian Party of Virginia, and contended that the Libertarians would suffer “irreparable harm” given Virginia’s ballot access laws.

In Libertarian Party of Virginia v. Judd, the Libertarian Party won the case regarding state residency requirements for petition circulators per the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on May 29, 2013. It was the first time a minor party had won a constitutional election law case in the Fourth Circuit since 1989 and 1988. In response to the Fourth Circuit’s ruling, the State of Virginia via former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as well as several other states, like Oklahoma, submitted petitions to the Supreme Court of the United States asking to reverse the Fourth Circuit’s decision. On December 2, 2013, the petitions against the Fourth Circuit’s ruling were denied by the Supreme Court, and so the Libertarian Party of Virginia won the case regarding state residency requirements for petition circulators.

Perry v. Judd

In January 2012, Texas Governor Rick Perry, former senator Rick Santorum, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. failed to qualify for the ballot and sued the State Board of Elections. U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. denied the request to add their names to Virginia’s Republican primary ballot.

Project Vote v. Long

In February 2010, after receiving reports from local community partners regarding large numbers of rejected voter registration applications, Project Vote and its voting partner, Advancement Project, sought to review Norfolk’s rejected registration applications to ascertain if qualified persons were unlawfully kept off the voting rolls. Elisa Long, the general registrar of Norfolk, and Nancy Rodrigues, secretary of the State Board of Elections denied Project Vote and Advancement Project the right to review the records, and both groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Virginia.

In July 2011, the Court granted Project Vote’s Motion for Summary Judgment and ordered the Norfolk County Registrar “to permit access to any requesting party for copy and/or inspection of voter registration applications and related records,” in compliance with public disclosure requirements under the National Voter Registration Act.

Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections

In Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) the U.S. Supreme Court found that Virginia’s poll tax was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The 24th Amendment (1964) prohibited poll taxes in federal elections. However, five states continued to impose a poll tax for voters in state elections. By this ruling, the Supreme Court banned the use of a poll tax in state elections.

Ballot access

Source: Wikipedia

Virginia has one of the most restrictive set of ballot access laws in the United States. According to the Code of Virginia subsection 24.2-101, without “major party” status for automatic ballot access in Virginia, minor party and independent candidates have to gather petition signatures to get on the ballot. For example, the requirement for statewide elections is 10,000 signatures, including at least 400 from each of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts. In order for a minor party to gain automatic ballot access as a major party, one of its nominated candidates must receive 10% of the vote in a statewide race. To obtain the signatures necessary to receive statewide ballot access in Virginia, it has been quoted to cost between $45,000 to $90,000 or up to $100,000.

How to run for office

Source: Board of Elections

These qualifications and requirements may vary slightly depending on whether the office sought is a local office, a general assembly seat, a statewide office, or a federal office. Generally, all candidates must meet the following minimum qualifications:

  • Be qualified to vote for and hold the office sought, and
  • Be a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia for one year immediately preceding the election.

The board has developed and published candidate informational bulletins specific to each office type. In addition to the qualifications, forms and filing requirements, candidate information bulletins provide candidates with information he/she will need to run for office.

X
Gerrymandering ExploredVoting and Redistricting

For years, redistricting reform advocates have been arguing something should be done to curb Virginia’s long history of political gerrymandering.

On November 5th, voters overwhelmingly agreed, passing a constitutional amendment that largely strips the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts, a historic shift in a system that dates back to Virginia’s colonial beginnings.

Wielding that power instead will be a 16-member, bipartisan redistricting commission made up of both sitting lawmakers and citizens, a panel designed to conduct its business publicly as opposed to the secretive, insider-driven processes of the past.

In a year of intense partisan division, the idea of depoliticizing the redistricting process seemed to draw broad support across parties and regions. With almost 90 percent of expected votes counted early Wednesday morning, about 67 percent of Virginians had voted in favor of the amendment.

From Virginia Mercury article on Nov. 4, 2020 (see Top News for full article)

Virginia Redistricting Commission
DeafJennyWittyApril 12, 2021
It was past time for the Virginia Board of Elections to crack down on lax candidates
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley April 8, 2021 (Short)

To hear some candidates tell it, a decision last week by the State Board of Elections is heavy-handed and reeks of political chicanery. The board’s move prevents a few Democratic Party challengers from getting on the primary ballot in contests for the House of Delegates this year. 

The three-member board, these candidates claim, won’t provide the usual extension it has allowed previously to people who file late or incomplete reports. Three Black candidates, all facing Democratic incumbents in the primary, are the people most affected. They say the board won’t give them a “do-over” customarily granted to politicos in the past. 

Two of the Democratic incumbents benefiting from this ruling are White, and one is Black. 

(Five other candidates with paperwork problems — Democrats and Republicans alike — are the only people seeking their party’s nominations in their district, allowing them to be nominated for the November ballot.)

Apparently fed up with paperwork coming in late, Virginia’s State Board of Elections has refused to extend a key campaign filing deadline this year, potentially affecting eight candidates running for the House of Delegates.

Three are Democrats looking to challenge incumbent lawmakers, meaning, if the decision stands, Dels. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, may not face primary challengers after all. Because they represent strongly Democratic districts, their primary opponents being disqualified on technical grounds all but guarantees the incumbents will win re-election.

The decision to insist on meaningful deadlines comes after years of officials wrestling with how to handle paperwork errors, reflecting a growing feeling on the board that candidates must take responsibility for their own campaigns and follow through to ensure their documents get to the right place.

Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMarch 31, 2021 (Short)

statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117 percent chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome.

“Election officials are over 99 percent confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday.

The only way to reach 100 percent certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome.

The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines.

It’s already too late for Virginia to redraw political districts in time for the 2021 House of Delegates races, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to speed up its delivery of new population data means Virginia lawmakers could be voting on future maps right before the November elections.

Census officials had told states to expect to get the data by late September, but Virginia officials say they now expect to receive it by the second week of August.

Under the newly created Virginia Redistricting Commission’s constitutional timeline, receipt of the data starts a 45-day clock for the commission to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. Once the legislature received the proposed maps, it has 15 days to vote on them.

Virginia sets an example on voting rights
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley March 24, 2021 (Short)

Virginia is setting the pace for what a state should do to ensure a person’s race, color, or language aren’t barriers to exercise the ability to vote. It’s among the most cherished rights of citizenship in America. 

Legislators in the General Assembly passed a bill — awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s expected signature — that, along with the protections above, would require local officials to complete a review process before making election-related changes. Such moves include closing polling places. 

These are not idle concerns in today’s political climate — and in a state that once required federal oversight through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because of a history of racist voting laws. 

 

When the federal Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, Virginia was one of nine states that drew special attention due to its history of racist election laws. That burden was lifted in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided enough time had passed that Virginia and other states could stop following an old rule requiring federal permission for changes that might affect minority voters.

With the future of federal voting protections now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority, Democrats in the General Assembly have passed their own version of a voting rights act, making Virginia the first state in the South to do so.

The proposed law, now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, creates broad new protections against voter discrimination based on race, color or language. With Republicans in dozens of states looking to restrict voting access after former President Donald Trump’s loss, supporters of the Virginia legislation see it as a decisive move in the other direction.

The most important exception the Senate can make
CNN Opinion, Norman Eisen et al.March 5, 2021 (Short)

Senators who vehemently defend the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for legislation are nonetheless about to accept a simple majority of 51 votes when they decide on the Covid-19 relief bill currently being debated. That paradox is made possible through an exception to the filibuster for fiscal measures known as “reconciliation.”

It’s time to craft another exception. Now that the landmark HR 1, the “For the People Act,” has passed the House and is headed for the Senate, the time has come for a parallel reconciliation exception for an even more fundamental category of legislation: the ethics, rule of law and fair election provisions that are central to our democratic republic.

Call it democracy reconciliation. Without it, we cannot fix what is broken in our elections and our government.

Sweeping voting rights package passes U.S. House
Virginia Mercury, Ariana Figueroa March 4, 2021 (Short)

The House passed sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill.

Even though Democrats control Congress and the White House, their slim majority in a 50-50 Senate is not enough to enact into law a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority. The push to end or reform the Senate filibuster is growing among Democrats who are aiming to get the package on President Joe Biden’s desk in the hopes that some of those changes can be enacted before midterm and gubernatorial races in 2022.

“I’m not optimistic on the Senate side,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the architect of the bill said during a Tuesday press conference. “We built this piece of legislation over a number of years but the urgency for it in this moment could not be greater.”

Why millennials and Gen Z have the most to lose in the voting wars
CNN Politics, Ronald BrownsteinMarch 2, 2021 (Short)

(CNN)In an epic struggle over voting rights, the future political influence of the diverse generations now aging into the electorate could pivot on the fate of legislation the House is expected to consider this week

Even as Republican-controlled states, drawing on former President Donald Trump’s groundless claims of massive fraud in 2020, are advancing a wave of proposals making it tougher to vote, House Democrats this week will consider HR 1, sweeping legislation that would establish a nationwide baseline of voting rights.

Although many of the provisions in HR 1 would ease the way for more young people to participate in politics, particularly important may be its measures requiring every state to create systems for automatic, same-day and online voter registration. That could significantly reduce what many experts consider the biggest barrier to more young people voting in American elections: a complex and varying registration system that far fewer younger than older voters have been able, or willing, to navigate.

The U.S. Census Bureau officially announced on Friday that states will not receive their census data – the information that is used to redistrict – until the end of September. This announcement was not a surprise, given the earlier news that the data would be sent to states around July 31 due to COVID delays, but this later date solidifies that new maps will not be ready for this November’s House of Delegates elections in Virginia.

So what does this mean for the current redistricting process?

For candidates for the House of Delegates, this means that they will be running in November on the existing legislative maps. It is not yet known how this decision will officially be reached, since the Virginia Constitution requires elections on new maps in years ending in “1” and that Constitutional deadline will be impossible to meet.

It remains to be seen is whether the Delegate races will have to be held again in 2022 (meaning that they would run three years in a row) or if they will wait until 2023 to utilize the new maps.

One thing is abundantly clear: the ongoing work of the Commission is unchanged by this delay. Their deadlines are contingent on the arrival of the Census data — so while the map-drawing part of their job will start later, the process will remain the same. See our timeline to better understand the sequence of events that will unfold once the Commission receives the Census data.

Most importantly, our work does not change.

Virginia’s new redistricting process creates space, for the first time, for individuals and communities to weigh in on the placement of district boundaries. Consideration of public input – including Communities of Interest – provides Virginians an unprecedented opportunity to tell the mapmakers about their communities.

Our job is to enable people to fill that space. Every group working on this issue will be encouraging and empowering voices that have been historically marginalized in the redistricting process to speak up and use every tool at their disposal to advocate for themselves and their neighbors.

These delays have absolutely nothing to do with the language in the amendment that created the bipartisan commission. In fact, any redistricting scenario would be impacted by a delay of this magnitude. This is the case in every state in the nation — even those without citizen-led commissions.

There is a bright side to this news: In the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, engaged Virginians have been banding together to create a path forward for those who want our historic commission’s work to produce fair and representative district maps, and now they will have additional time to make sure this decade’s redistricting is done the right way.

Despite lingering, and unfounded, fraud suspicions on the right, a recently issued state report called the 2020 election the “most safe, secure, and successful” in Virginia’s history.

This year, the Democratic-led General Assembly has rejected several Republican proposals to tighten election laws, while preserving several policy changes lawmakers enacted last year on an emergency basis like ballot drop boxes and looser rules for absentee voting.

But another significant election bill has drawn bipartisan support, one that would make it easier for political parties and nonpartisan data analysts to track geographic voting patterns amid a massive increase in absentee ballots.

Voting access was a top priority for the General Assembly’s new Democratic majorities, which sent a package of election-related legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. Bills to repeal the state’s photo ID law and establish early voting, near-automatic voter registration through the DMV, same-day registration and an Election Day holiday are all on their way to being signed into law.

Northam can still make changes to specific proposals, but he has signaled general support for lowering barriers to voting.

Together, the legislation represents a major overhaul of voting laws enacted under decades of Republican legislative control.

The 8 citizen members and 8 legislative members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission met for the first time last night, January 21st, for just over an hour and a half where they introduced themselves and expressed their excitement to be contributing to a fair, balanced and impartial redistricting process. For their first order of business, Senator McDougle (SD-4), moved to allow for two citizen co-chairs – one from each party. Senator Barker (SD-39) seconded the motion, and the Commission proceeded to unanimously elect Greta Harris, a Democrat from Richmond, and Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican from Mechanicsville, after citizen commissioner James Abrenio confirmed the legality of such action with the Department of Legislative Services (DLS).

Meg Lamb, the senior attorney for DLS then spoke to the commission about the delay of census data delivery. She reported that the 2020 census data would likely not be delivered until late summer or early fall, making it unlikely that new districts will be drawn in time for the 2021 elections. In years where new districts are drawn, the primaries are typically moved to August. However, because new districts are unlikely to be ready in time, the 2021 primaries are currently scheduled for June. Senator Barker suggested that in the interim before the data is delivered, the commission can begin its work using preliminary data, noting that population shifts in Virginia haven’t been as large as in the recent past.

Something *very* important for our politics happened on Tuesday
Analysis by Chris Cillizza,January 14, 2021 (Medium)

While the eyes of the world were focused on the impeachment efforts against President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan of neighboring Maryland did something extremely important in beginning the long process of unwinding our current political polarization.

The Republican governor announced that via executive order he had created an independent commission he will task with redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative lines following the decennial reapportionment later this year. Known as the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, the nine-person group will include three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents.

A campaign table at a polling station in Buckingham County, Va., Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

A Fredericksburg-area Republican picked for one of the citizen seats on Virginia’s new redistricting commission previously made vulgar or degrading online comments about President Donald Trump’s detractors, calling Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn a “bimbo” and actress Jane Fonda a “b*tch c**t.”

Before the November election, Jose Feliciano Jr., a 52-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who listed his current job as an agent in the Federal Communications Commission’s public safety bureau, tweeted a photo of a pro-Trump highway caravan and said the only way the president could lose was a “rigged election.”

Screenshots of the tweets were circulated by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which works to advance Democratic interests in redistricting processes throughout the country.

In a statement, the NDRC said Feliciano’s online activity shows he is “unfit to serve” on the commission and questioned why Republicans in the House of Delegates would nominate him to fill one of the four citizen seats reserved for the GOP.

The Mercury could not independently review Feliciano’s Twitter account because it was taken down after he was appointed to the redistricting commission last week. Feliciano said he took the account down Saturday “as a protest to them suspending President Trump.” In an email to the Mercury, Feliciano verified the tweets were his. He said that, in anger, he “used some language I should not have used,” adding what’s “done is done.”

“Looks like other posts are singled out because I am pro Trump, well I am pro Trump,” he said.

Twitter suspended Trump’s account over the president’s role in inspiring the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week by the president’s supporters, violence Feliciano said he fully condemns.

Feliciano was among the 16 nominees for the commission put forward by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

His application included a letter of recommendation from Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, who recently signed on to a letter asking Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Virginia’s 13 Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden based on unfounded fraud suspicions.

House GOP spokesman Garren Shipley declined to comment on Feliciano’s tweets, saying “we don’t comment on redistricting matters.”

Amigo Wade, a legislative staffer who worked with the judges on the process, said the selection committee “will not comment on its decisions regarding the selection of the citizen members.”

The redistricting process hasn’t started yet. The seats on the 16-member commission, approved by voters in November, were just recently filled, with Gilbert and other General Assembly leaders playing a key role in picking which of the more than than 1,200 Virginians who applied were best equipped for the important work of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps in a fair manner.

The eight citizen members were nominated by political leaders in the General Assembly and selected by a panel of retired judges. The other eight seats are reserved for sitting legislators.

Feliciano wasn’t included on the initial shortlist of finalists chosen by the judges, but they added him after realizing their list had no Hispanic members. In his application, Feliciano listed his race as White and Hispanic as his ethnicity.

With eight seats meant to go to Democrats and eight to Republicans, the commission wasn’t designed to be nonpartisan. However, it was generally understood as a way to avoid hyperpartisanship in redistricting.

One of Feliciano’s tweets was directed at the actor Peter Fonda, who made headlines in 2018 for tweeting that Barron Trump, the president’s youngest son, “should be put in a cage with pedophiles,” an apparent response to the controversy over immigrant children being separated from their parents at the southern border. Fonda later apologized for the remark.

In a June 2018 tweet to Fonda, Feliciano said: “you’re a piece of sh*t mother f**ker no different than you b**ch c**t sister!” His post did not use asterisks.

Fonda’s sister is Jane Fonda, an 83-year-old actress and left-wing activist who has sharply criticized Trump.

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, when Vonn failed to win a gold medal after drawing the ire of Trump supporters for saying she wouldn’t visit the White House, Feliciano tweeted to Vonn: “Congratulations great to see that you fell flat on your face, happy losing you losing bimbo.”

On Jan. 5, the day before Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, Feliciano tweeted a video that he suggested showed a police officer giving a “green light” for counter-protesters to “harass and attack Trump supporters.”

In response to a Jan. 5 Trump tweet touting the Jan. 6 rally that devolved into mayhem, Feliciano responded with a photo calling Trump the “GREATEST PRESIDENT IN MODERN DAY HISTORY.”

Felicano said he condemns the violence at the Capitol, calling the events a “complete disgrace.”

“Those criminals put a stain on all the good that has come from the Trump administration, and I hope each and everyone of them is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Feliciano said.

Though the NDRC attempted to portray Feliciano as a conspiracy theorist, some of the posts the group highlighted seem to be fairly typical of online conservative discourse.

For example, the group flagged a Feliciano tweet in which he said former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was hit with the heaviest campaign finance fine in American history. That $375,000 fine has been widely described by news outlets as one of the largest ever.

During the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, when U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said America didn’t “inherit” racism and slavery but instead “our founders and our government carefully created it,” Feliciano responded with a tweet saying the Atlantic slave trade predated America and began with Portugal. He said Kaine should “take a history class.”

“Explain to me how we own the slave trade,” he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the NDRC said Feliciano’s “tone on Twitter alone is disqualifying to serve on the powerful bipartisan redistricting commission.”

“How is Feliciano going to act as a commissioner working in good faith and in the best interest for all Virginians when he shares lies, misogyny and questions America’s involvement with slavery?” said NDRC spokeswoman Molly Mitchell.

Feliciano called himself a “descendant of slaves” and said he “in no way” questioned America’s role in slavery.

“I was only pointing out the fact of where and how slavery originated who started it and how it ended up on American shores,” he said.

Of Gilbert’s 16 nominees to the commission, all but Feliciano were White and non-Hispanic.

Feliciano said he was honored to be picked for the commission and plans to work for “all the people of the Commonwealth both Democrat and Republican.”

“I used intemperate language on social media, like millions of others have,” he said. “I regret my choice of words but it has no bearing on my ability to do the job.”

In his letter of recommendation, Cole called Feliciano “hard worker, a person of integrity, and honor.”

“I am confident he would be impartial and do a great job,” Cole wrote.

Cole’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The commission, which will begin redrawing maps when new U.S. Census date comes in later this year, is scheduled to hold its first meeting by Feb. 1.

Retired judges pick eight citizen members for Virginia redistricting commission
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw January 6, 2021 (Medium)
The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A panel of retired judges on Wednesday picked the eight Virginia citizens who will serve on the state’s new redistricting commission, finalizing the group that will handle the important task of redrawing the state’s political maps when new U.S. Census data arrives.

The judges spent hours trying to solve the puzzle of winnowing more than 60 finalists down to eight people who, by law, were supposed to represent Virginia’s geographic, racial and gender diversity.

“We’ve got to check a number of boxes here,” said retired Judge Pamela Baskervill, who chaired the five-judge panel assembled to choose the citizen members.

More than 1,200 people applied for the eight seats late last year. But the judges could only pick from four lists of 16 finalists submitted by four legislative leaders in the General Assembly.

The judges picked six men and two women to fill the eight citizen seats on the 16-member commission.

Four of the chosen members are White (three non-Hispanic and one Hispanic), two are Black, one is Asian American and one is multi-racial.

Three of the members are from Northern Virginia and two are from the Richmond area. Southwest Virginia, Southside and Hampton Roads will each have one citizen representative on the commission.

The group includes four self-identified Democrats and four who identified as Republicans.

The selected citizen members are:

Nominees of Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth:

  • James Abrenio, 37, of Fairfax, a trial lawyer.
  • Sean S. Kumar, 41, of Alexandria, a strategic advisor and lawyer.

Nominees of House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax:

  • Brandon Christopher Hutchins, 39, of Virginia Beach, a military veteran and health care professional.
  • Greta J. Harris, 60, of Richmond, president and CEO of the Better Housing Coalition.

Nominees of Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City:

  • Marvin W. Gilliam Jr., 64, of Bristol, a retired coal mining executive.
  • Richard O. Harrell III, 74, of South Boston, a trucking executive.

Nominees of House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah:

  • Jose A. Feliciano Jr., 52, of Fredericksburg, a military veteran and federal agent with the FCC’s public safety bureau.
  • Mackenzie K. Babichenko, 36, of Mechanicsville, an assistant prosecutor in Hanover County.

(Note: Some applicants were nominated as finalists by multiple legislative leaders, but the judges had to pick two from each leader’s list.)

The other eight seats on the commission will be filled by sitting state legislators.

The commission, approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year, will soon get to work preparing to redraw Virginia’s legislative and congressional districts, a process previously handled wholly by the General Assembly. Because of uncertainty surrounding the 2020 Census data, the exact timeline for the commission’s work is unclear. New maps are supposed to be in place in time for House of Delegates elections this November, but Census delays may make it impossible to redraw the districts in time.

Whenever the state receives solid data on population shifts, the commission’s decisions could impact the partisan tilt of the statehouse and the congressional delegation for the next decade.

Critics of the commission proposal warned that it lacked adequate provisions to ensure a diverse group of people would be at the table for the next redistricting process. But diversity seemed to be a top priority for the judges, with their discussion centering more on whether they were achieving the right balance rather than the backgrounds and qualifications of specific applicants.

Comparing notes on which candidates stood out to them, the judges initially narrowed the finalists down to a group of 19. They then realized their shortlist lacked any Hispanic applicants and didn’t include anyone from the Eastern Shore/Northern Neck region. The panel made a point of adding at least one Hispanic applicant (Feliciano) after retired retired Judge Larry B. Kirksey said he was troubled by the lack of Hispanic representation. But several judges said it was nearly impossible to create a perfectly representative commission given their limited options for just eight slots.

“’We can only work with the list of folks that came to us from the members of the General Assembly,” said retired Judge Joanne F. Alper. “We didn’t have access to the whole 1,200.”

Alper said she felt it was important to include at least one member from the Southside and Southwest regions, even though their shortlist only included White men from those areas.

“You need somebody at least that has some knowledge of that region,” she said.

Some progressives had raised alarms that the pool of applicants was disproportionately White and wealthy, pointing to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The application process was open to everyone willing to fill out the form and provide three reference letters, but the judges also grappled with strict, General Assembly-imposed limitations on who was eligible to serve.

To prevent cronyism, the legislature passed rules barring political aides, lobbyists, partisan operatives and family members of elected officials from serving on the commission. But those rules also forced the judges to reluctantly strike one applicant whose wife previously worked on Capitol Hill.

Several judges said they were impressed by both the quantity and quality of the applicants interested in serving on the commission.

“I’m just amazed by the diversity, the energy, the brilliance,” said Kirksey.  “Not just brightness. There is brilliance on this list.”

Va. political leaders name 8 legislators who’ll serve on new redistricting commission
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw December 1, 2020 (Medium)
The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The group of eight Democratic and Republican legislators who will serve on Virginia’s new redistricting commission will be made up of five men and three women, including two senior members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

The legislative members, who will wield significant power over how legislative and congressional districts are redrawn when new U.S. Census data comes in next year, come from districts that touch most regions of the state, ensuring some level of geographic diversity in the process.

Leaders of the General Assembly’s four political caucuses announced their appointees to the commission this week, filling half the seats on a newly created commission voters approved in a referendum last month. Instead of having the full General Assembly draw new political maps itself, the eight legislators on the 16-person commission will work with eight citizen members to draft new maps for the decade ahead. The application window for citizens who want to serve on the commission opened this week and will close on Dec. 28.

The map-drawing process could shape which party holds power in Richmond, which incumbents can safely win re-election and which might face challenges, and how much clout geographic regions will have in the state legislature.

As they work to set up the commission, Republican and Democratic leaders in the two chambers got to pick two appointees each from their own ranks.

Those appointees are:

House Democrats

  • Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax
  • Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond

House Republicans

  • Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham
  • Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland

Senate Democrats

  • Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton
  • Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax

Senate Republicans

  • Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg
  • Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover

Each two-person caucus unit is important because, according to the commission rules, each one could block a map proposal even if the other three groups support it. That system is meant to foster collaboration and bipartisanship, but if the commission fails to approve a plan it would fall to the Supreme Court of Virginia to oversee the creation of maps drawn by appointed experts.

Six of the legislative members supported the commission proposal when it was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. The two House Democrats did not. Nor did Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who appointed them.

One of the opponents’ primary concerns was that the commission might not be diverse enough.

“A Redistricting Commission that represents the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the commonwealth is necessary to ensure every Virginian has a voice in the redistricting process and in our government,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “Commissioners will need to be committed to inclusion and dedicated to a fair redistricting process that protects the vote of every Virginian. These are the standards for individuals I am appointing as legislators today and my recommendations for citizen members to the commission moving forward.”

In an interview, Simon, who fought the redistricting amendment hard during the 2020 session and in the run-up to the election, said he expects to “be there to sort of keep an eye on things.”

“I think we want to deliver to voters what they expected,” Simon said. “Which is a fair process and maps that sort of reflect the political makeup of Virginia.”

The Senate’s picks largely reflect seniority. Locke and Barker were major supporters of the redistricting reform push. Locke is chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and Barker was a patron of the constitutional amendment creating the commission.

“These two leaders have the experience, knowledge, and historical context of redistricting and also are keenly aware of the importance of making sure we have diverse representation in our Commissioners,” Sen. Louse Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who made the Democrats’ picks as the president pro tempore of the Senate, said in a news release. “Senators Locke and Barker have been involved in this process for years and I know they will be a great addition to the commission.”

McDougle is the Republican caucus chair, and Newman served as president pro tempore of the Senate before Republicans lost their majority last year.

The picks from House Republicans were somewhat surprising. Neither Adams nor Ransone is a member of the House GOP leadership, and neither are seen as particularly outspoken partisan warriors.

In a news release, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, noted that both Adams and Ransone “supported the creation of the commission throughout.”

“With their combined knowledge and experience, I have no doubt they will help craft what the voters have demanded — fair maps for every Virginian,” Gilbert said.

Virginia General Assembly passes rules for newly approved redistricting commission
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw November 9, 2020 (Short)
Voters cast ballots at Charles M. Johnson Elementary School in Henrico County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

With Virginia’s redistricting debate now settled by voters, state lawmakers approved a package of rules Monday for how the new, bipartisan map-drawing commission will work next year.

Democrats’ dispute over the redistricting commission, which almost 66 percent of Virginia voters approved last week, delayed the formal conclusion of the special session that began in August. To settle it, legislative leaders and Gov. Ralph Northam agreed to pass a post-election budget amendment allowing the commission to be set up and begin its work next year.

Democrats in the House of Delegates had opposed putting the language in the budget as the session seemed to be coming to a close last month. They argued voters should decide on the constitutional amendment creating the commission as it stood, without any improvements added legislatively.

On Monday, a few House Democrats gave speeches saying they still feel the commission idea is flawed, but will respect the result.

“The people have spoken in great numbers and they wanted to see changes in how the redistricting process happens in Virginia,” said Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, an outspoken critic of the commission proposal who called it “regrettable that there was so much confusion and misinformation” about the redistricting question on the ballot.

The House voted 99-0 to approve the redistricting language. It also easily cleared the Senate.

Proponents of the change have hailed the commission as a much-needed change to a system that has given elected legislators free rein to draw districts to benefit themselves or their party behind closed doors.

“From the start, this movement has been about putting the voices of citizens above politicians and political parties,” the redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021 said in a statement celebrating the commission’s passage.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a 16-person commission with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats and seats split between sitting legislators and citizen members. Once new U.S. Census data is received in 2021, the commission will redraw Virginia’s congressional and legislative districts, a process that could determine partisan control in Richmond.

The commission’s members will be appointed in the coming weeks, and the panel has to hold its first meeting before Feb. 1.

The budget language approved Monday lays out who is eligible to serve on the commission and the process it will follow.

Among other things, the language:

  • Bans people who hold partisan offices, political aides, campaign employees, lobbyists and others from being appointed to the citizen seats to the commission. It also bans political insiders’ relatives from serving on the commission.
  • Stipulates that the commission’s makeup should reflect Virginia’s “racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity.”
  • Declares that the commission’s records, including internal communications, are public and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Bans commission members from discussing redistricting-related matters with any third parties “outside of a public meeting or hearing.”
  • Requires the Supreme Court of Virginia to appoint two experts, or special masters, to draw court-overseen maps if the commission and the General Assembly fail to agree on their own. The special masters would be picked from lists submitted by political leaders from both parties.
  • Requires any Supreme Court judge related to a member of Congress or the General Assembly to recuse themselves from any redistricting decision. Current Justice Teresa M. Chafin is the sister of state Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon.
In historic change, Virginia voters approve bipartisan commission to handle political redistricting
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw et al.November 4, 2020 (Medium)
Voters arrive at the Taylor Masonic Lodge in Scottsville, Va., Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

For years, redistricting reform advocates have been arguing something should be done to curb Virginia’s long history of political gerrymandering.

On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly agreed, passing a constitutional amendment that largely strips the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts, a historic shift in a system that dates back to Virginia’s colonial beginnings.

Wielding that power instead will be a 16-member, bipartisan redistricting commission made up of both sitting lawmakers and citizens, a panel designed to conduct its business publicly as opposed to the secretive, insider-driven processes of the past.

In a year of intense partisan division, the idea of depoliticizing the redistricting process seemed to draw broad support across parties and regions. With almost 90 percent of expected votes counted early Wednesday morning, about 67 percent of Virginians had voted in favor of the amendment.

Though some votes were still uncounted, FairMapsVA, the anti-gerrymandering group pushing for the amendment with its parent organization OneVirginia2021, declared victory around 12:40 a.m., saying the result came after six years of work.

“Tonight, we celebrate the formation of Virginia’s first citizen-led redistricting commission; and tomorrow, we get back to work to ensure the commission’s work is successful,” the group said in a statement.

The outcome ensures that the next redistricting process — which could determine how much representation Virginia communities have, which political party is likely to hold power in Richmond and which incumbents are or aren’t safe from election challenges — will have at least some direct citizen involvement for the first time ever.

Once a decade, the state uses new U.S. Census data to redraw legislative and congressional maps to ensure each district has roughly the same population. How those districts are drawn can have far-reaching impacts, affecting which party can win a majority of the seats, electoral competitiveness, how much political power minority communities have and which individual politicians get to represent a particular area. So it’s no surprise that changing who draws those maps was a contentious endeavor.

The vote on the redistricting question, coupled with strong Democratic victories in Tuesday’s statewide races, reveals a disconnect between some Democratic leaders and the party’s voters.

Many Democrats in the House of Delegates voted against the commission proposal this year after voting for it in 2019, a reversal they said came after they had more time to consider its flaws. The Democratic Party of Virginia also officially opposed the initiative despite the fact that it was supported by senior Virginia Democrats like U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Had the amendment failed, the Democratic-led General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam would have the final say on new maps.

Fair Districts VA, an advocacy group formed by Democrats opposed to the ballot question, conceded defeat early Wednesday morning, saying it had been “fighting an uphill battle.” The group demanded that more be done to pursue stronger redistricting reform going forward.

“The people who pushed Amendment 1 know of its flaws – and it is now incumbent upon them to seek real solutions to fix those flaws,” Fair Districts said in a news release.

The proposal was supported by national good-government groups as well as the ACLU of Virginia, the League of Women Voters of Virginia and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. But it fell short of what many redistricting reformers envisioned: a fully independent commission that gives incumbent politicians no power whatsoever to draw their own districts.

Because Virginia has no process for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, it’s always been up to state lawmakers to willingly give up their redistricting power. In previous years, the Republican-led House of Delegates routinely blocked redistricting reform efforts. But GOP leaders changed their position in 2019 after federal courts redrew some House districts to correct Republican-led racial gerrymandering, a development that helped put the House GOP majority in jeopardy heading into the 2019 elections.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, argued unsuccessfully in March for an alternative redistricting amendment that was supported by a majority of Democrats in the House of Delegates. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Reserving half the seats for legislators was seen as a compromise that still gives General Assembly leaders a hand in redistricting, which can have career-ending consequences for incumbents whose districts change dramatically.

Maps produced by the new commission will go to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. If the commission can’t agree on maps or the General Assembly rejects the commission’s maps, the Supreme Court of Virginia would conduct a court-supervised redistricting process.

Opponents have also argued the commission proposal lacks explicit protections for minority communities. Supporters say the amendment achieves that by referencing the federal Voting Rights Act and specifying that districts will allow “opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to elect candidates of their choice.”

The insidery arguments about the commission’s particulars seemed to escape many Virginians.

Some voters said they hadn’t heard about the redistricting amendment until they saw it on their ballot Tuesday, drawing disparate conclusions about its potential impact from the one-paragraph description they read in the voting booth.

At a polling place in downtown Richmond, none sounded especially confident in their interpretations.

“It’s so convoluted if you read it from the back of a voter ballot,” said Patrick Ogden, who ultimately decided to vote no because he opposed the idea of stripping the governor of his authority to veto redistricting plans and giving the unelected members of the Supreme Court of Virginia a role in the process. “I believe the governor should have a little more say. At least that’s what I read from it.”

Sasha Atkins, who also voted no, said the explanation on the ballot made her worry the amendment wouldn’t give regular citizens enough of a say in the redistricting process. “We should be representing ourselves,” she said.

Another voter at the same polling place said she voted for the measure, but only because she thought it addressed how local school districts redraw their boundaries.

In Southwest Virginia’s Franklin County, Gary Holden of Ferrum said he supported the commission while voting “straight-ticket Democrat.” He said he saw the commission as preferable to the current system “so long as it’s made up of equal parties.”

In Virginia Beach, 44-year-old schoolteacher Scott Parker said he voted for the redistricting amendment because he wanted to bring more logic to the process.

At the same polling place, Janise Jenkins, a 39-year-old property manager, also said the amendment would be an improvement on the status quo.

“It will be fair, more reasonable,” she said.

The commission was approved just in time to handle the redistricting process scheduled for 2021, but pandemic-related delays with the census data could create severe timing issues. With all 100 seats in the House of Delegates up for election next year, officials will have to rush to get new districts in place in time for late-summer primaries and a shortened general-election cycle.

If the delays make it impossible to draw new districts in time, the House elections could potentially be run using existing district lines. The state could also be left scrambling if there appear to be major problems with the census count conducted in such a chaotic year.

In the short term, officials will get to work setting up the commission and deciding who will serve on it. By Nov. 15, the state Supreme Court is supposed to submit a list of retired judges willing to serve on a selection committee that will pick the citizen members from nominees floated by General Assembly leaders. The commission’s eight legislative members are scheduled to be appointed by Dec. 1.

The commission has to hold its first public meeting by Feb. 1.

First, the General Assembly will reconvene to pass additional rules for how the commission will work. Those rules were being considered for inclusion in the state budget during the recent special session, but the fierce intraparty debate among Democrats over the amendment led lawmakers to keep the budget process open until after the outcome was known.

With the amendment approved by voters, the legislature is set to return next week to finish that work.

Summary

For years, redistricting reform advocates have been arguing something should be done to curb Virginia’s long history of political gerrymandering.

On November 5th, voters overwhelmingly agreed, passing a constitutional amendment that largely strips the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts, a historic shift in a system that dates back to Virginia’s colonial beginnings.

Wielding that power instead will be a 16-member, bipartisan redistricting commission made up of both sitting lawmakers and citizens, a panel designed to conduct its business publicly as opposed to the secretive, insider-driven processes of the past.

In a year of intense partisan division, the idea of depoliticizing the redistricting process seemed to draw broad support across parties and regions. With almost 90 percent of expected votes counted early Wednesday morning, about 67 percent of Virginians had voted in favor of the amendment.

From Virginia Mercury article on Nov. 4, 2020 (see Top News for full article)

News

Virginia Redistricting Commission
DeafJennyWittyApril 12, 2021
It was past time for the Virginia Board of Elections to crack down on lax candidates
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley April 8, 2021 (Short)

To hear some candidates tell it, a decision last week by the State Board of Elections is heavy-handed and reeks of political chicanery. The board’s move prevents a few Democratic Party challengers from getting on the primary ballot in contests for the House of Delegates this year. 

The three-member board, these candidates claim, won’t provide the usual extension it has allowed previously to people who file late or incomplete reports. Three Black candidates, all facing Democratic incumbents in the primary, are the people most affected. They say the board won’t give them a “do-over” customarily granted to politicos in the past. 

Two of the Democratic incumbents benefiting from this ruling are White, and one is Black. 

(Five other candidates with paperwork problems — Democrats and Republicans alike — are the only people seeking their party’s nominations in their district, allowing them to be nominated for the November ballot.)

Apparently fed up with paperwork coming in late, Virginia’s State Board of Elections has refused to extend a key campaign filing deadline this year, potentially affecting eight candidates running for the House of Delegates.

Three are Democrats looking to challenge incumbent lawmakers, meaning, if the decision stands, Dels. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, and Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, may not face primary challengers after all. Because they represent strongly Democratic districts, their primary opponents being disqualified on technical grounds all but guarantees the incumbents will win re-election.

The decision to insist on meaningful deadlines comes after years of officials wrestling with how to handle paperwork errors, reflecting a growing feeling on the board that candidates must take responsibility for their own campaigns and follow through to ensure their documents get to the right place.

Audit overwhelmingly confirms Virginia’s election results
Virginia Mercury, Graham MoomawMarch 31, 2021 (Short)

statewide audit of Virginia’s 2020 election results verified President Joe Biden’s victory in the state, finding only a 0.00000065117 percent chance the state’s voting system could have produced an inaccurate outcome.

“Election officials are over 99 percent confident in the reported outcome,” Karen Hoyt-Stewart, voting technology manager at the Virginia Department of Elections, told the State Board of Elections as she presented the audit report Wednesday.

The only way to reach 100 percent certainty would be for officials to manually review every ballot cast in the state. In other words, the audit found there’s almost zero chance a full recount would show a different outcome.

The risk-limiting audit, more of a mathematical exercise than an expansive investigation into how ballots were cast and counted, involved checking a random sample of paper ballots against the results reported by scanner machines.

It’s already too late for Virginia to redraw political districts in time for the 2021 House of Delegates races, but the U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to speed up its delivery of new population data means Virginia lawmakers could be voting on future maps right before the November elections.

Census officials had told states to expect to get the data by late September, but Virginia officials say they now expect to receive it by the second week of August.

Under the newly created Virginia Redistricting Commission’s constitutional timeline, receipt of the data starts a 45-day clock for the commission to submit new legislative maps to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. Once the legislature received the proposed maps, it has 15 days to vote on them.

Virginia sets an example on voting rights
Virginia Mercury, Roger Chesley March 24, 2021 (Short)

Virginia is setting the pace for what a state should do to ensure a person’s race, color, or language aren’t barriers to exercise the ability to vote. It’s among the most cherished rights of citizenship in America. 

Legislators in the General Assembly passed a bill — awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s expected signature — that, along with the protections above, would require local officials to complete a review process before making election-related changes. Such moves include closing polling places. 

These are not idle concerns in today’s political climate — and in a state that once required federal oversight through the Voting Rights Act of 1965 because of a history of racist voting laws. 

 

When the federal Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, Virginia was one of nine states that drew special attention due to its history of racist election laws. That burden was lifted in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court decided enough time had passed that Virginia and other states could stop following an old rule requiring federal permission for changes that might affect minority voters.

With the future of federal voting protections now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority, Democrats in the General Assembly have passed their own version of a voting rights act, making Virginia the first state in the South to do so.

The proposed law, now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature, creates broad new protections against voter discrimination based on race, color or language. With Republicans in dozens of states looking to restrict voting access after former President Donald Trump’s loss, supporters of the Virginia legislation see it as a decisive move in the other direction.

The most important exception the Senate can make
CNN Opinion, Norman Eisen et al.March 5, 2021 (Short)

Senators who vehemently defend the Senate’s 60-vote threshold for legislation are nonetheless about to accept a simple majority of 51 votes when they decide on the Covid-19 relief bill currently being debated. That paradox is made possible through an exception to the filibuster for fiscal measures known as “reconciliation.”

It’s time to craft another exception. Now that the landmark HR 1, the “For the People Act,” has passed the House and is headed for the Senate, the time has come for a parallel reconciliation exception for an even more fundamental category of legislation: the ethics, rule of law and fair election provisions that are central to our democratic republic.

Call it democracy reconciliation. Without it, we cannot fix what is broken in our elections and our government.

Sweeping voting rights package passes U.S. House
Virginia Mercury, Ariana Figueroa March 4, 2021 (Short)

The House passed sweeping voting rights, redistricting, campaign finance and ethics reform, late Wednesday night along party lines in a 220 to 210 vote, but the historic package will face an uphill battle in the Senate as no Republicans currently support the bill.

Even though Democrats control Congress and the White House, their slim majority in a 50-50 Senate is not enough to enact into law a massive package that tackles dark money in campaigns, voter suppression and election security that requires 60 votes rather than a simple majority. The push to end or reform the Senate filibuster is growing among Democrats who are aiming to get the package on President Joe Biden’s desk in the hopes that some of those changes can be enacted before midterm and gubernatorial races in 2022.

“I’m not optimistic on the Senate side,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), the architect of the bill said during a Tuesday press conference. “We built this piece of legislation over a number of years but the urgency for it in this moment could not be greater.”

Why millennials and Gen Z have the most to lose in the voting wars
CNN Politics, Ronald BrownsteinMarch 2, 2021 (Short)

(CNN)In an epic struggle over voting rights, the future political influence of the diverse generations now aging into the electorate could pivot on the fate of legislation the House is expected to consider this week

Even as Republican-controlled states, drawing on former President Donald Trump’s groundless claims of massive fraud in 2020, are advancing a wave of proposals making it tougher to vote, House Democrats this week will consider HR 1, sweeping legislation that would establish a nationwide baseline of voting rights.

Although many of the provisions in HR 1 would ease the way for more young people to participate in politics, particularly important may be its measures requiring every state to create systems for automatic, same-day and online voter registration. That could significantly reduce what many experts consider the biggest barrier to more young people voting in American elections: a complex and varying registration system that far fewer younger than older voters have been able, or willing, to navigate.

The U.S. Census Bureau officially announced on Friday that states will not receive their census data – the information that is used to redistrict – until the end of September. This announcement was not a surprise, given the earlier news that the data would be sent to states around July 31 due to COVID delays, but this later date solidifies that new maps will not be ready for this November’s House of Delegates elections in Virginia.

So what does this mean for the current redistricting process?

For candidates for the House of Delegates, this means that they will be running in November on the existing legislative maps. It is not yet known how this decision will officially be reached, since the Virginia Constitution requires elections on new maps in years ending in “1” and that Constitutional deadline will be impossible to meet.

It remains to be seen is whether the Delegate races will have to be held again in 2022 (meaning that they would run three years in a row) or if they will wait until 2023 to utilize the new maps.

One thing is abundantly clear: the ongoing work of the Commission is unchanged by this delay. Their deadlines are contingent on the arrival of the Census data — so while the map-drawing part of their job will start later, the process will remain the same. See our timeline to better understand the sequence of events that will unfold once the Commission receives the Census data.

Most importantly, our work does not change.

Virginia’s new redistricting process creates space, for the first time, for individuals and communities to weigh in on the placement of district boundaries. Consideration of public input – including Communities of Interest – provides Virginians an unprecedented opportunity to tell the mapmakers about their communities.

Our job is to enable people to fill that space. Every group working on this issue will be encouraging and empowering voices that have been historically marginalized in the redistricting process to speak up and use every tool at their disposal to advocate for themselves and their neighbors.

These delays have absolutely nothing to do with the language in the amendment that created the bipartisan commission. In fact, any redistricting scenario would be impacted by a delay of this magnitude. This is the case in every state in the nation — even those without citizen-led commissions.

There is a bright side to this news: In the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic, engaged Virginians have been banding together to create a path forward for those who want our historic commission’s work to produce fair and representative district maps, and now they will have additional time to make sure this decade’s redistricting is done the right way.

Despite lingering, and unfounded, fraud suspicions on the right, a recently issued state report called the 2020 election the “most safe, secure, and successful” in Virginia’s history.

This year, the Democratic-led General Assembly has rejected several Republican proposals to tighten election laws, while preserving several policy changes lawmakers enacted last year on an emergency basis like ballot drop boxes and looser rules for absentee voting.

But another significant election bill has drawn bipartisan support, one that would make it easier for political parties and nonpartisan data analysts to track geographic voting patterns amid a massive increase in absentee ballots.

Voting access was a top priority for the General Assembly’s new Democratic majorities, which sent a package of election-related legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. Bills to repeal the state’s photo ID law and establish early voting, near-automatic voter registration through the DMV, same-day registration and an Election Day holiday are all on their way to being signed into law.

Northam can still make changes to specific proposals, but he has signaled general support for lowering barriers to voting.

Together, the legislation represents a major overhaul of voting laws enacted under decades of Republican legislative control.

The 8 citizen members and 8 legislative members of the Virginia Redistricting Commission met for the first time last night, January 21st, for just over an hour and a half where they introduced themselves and expressed their excitement to be contributing to a fair, balanced and impartial redistricting process. For their first order of business, Senator McDougle (SD-4), moved to allow for two citizen co-chairs – one from each party. Senator Barker (SD-39) seconded the motion, and the Commission proceeded to unanimously elect Greta Harris, a Democrat from Richmond, and Mackenzie Babichenko, a Republican from Mechanicsville, after citizen commissioner James Abrenio confirmed the legality of such action with the Department of Legislative Services (DLS).

Meg Lamb, the senior attorney for DLS then spoke to the commission about the delay of census data delivery. She reported that the 2020 census data would likely not be delivered until late summer or early fall, making it unlikely that new districts will be drawn in time for the 2021 elections. In years where new districts are drawn, the primaries are typically moved to August. However, because new districts are unlikely to be ready in time, the 2021 primaries are currently scheduled for June. Senator Barker suggested that in the interim before the data is delivered, the commission can begin its work using preliminary data, noting that population shifts in Virginia haven’t been as large as in the recent past.

Something *very* important for our politics happened on Tuesday
Analysis by Chris Cillizza,January 14, 2021 (Medium)

While the eyes of the world were focused on the impeachment efforts against President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan of neighboring Maryland did something extremely important in beginning the long process of unwinding our current political polarization.

The Republican governor announced that via executive order he had created an independent commission he will task with redrawing the state’s congressional and legislative lines following the decennial reapportionment later this year. Known as the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, the nine-person group will include three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents.

A campaign table at a polling station in Buckingham County, Va., Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

A Fredericksburg-area Republican picked for one of the citizen seats on Virginia’s new redistricting commission previously made vulgar or degrading online comments about President Donald Trump’s detractors, calling Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn a “bimbo” and actress Jane Fonda a “b*tch c**t.”

Before the November election, Jose Feliciano Jr., a 52-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who listed his current job as an agent in the Federal Communications Commission’s public safety bureau, tweeted a photo of a pro-Trump highway caravan and said the only way the president could lose was a “rigged election.”

Screenshots of the tweets were circulated by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which works to advance Democratic interests in redistricting processes throughout the country.

In a statement, the NDRC said Feliciano’s online activity shows he is “unfit to serve” on the commission and questioned why Republicans in the House of Delegates would nominate him to fill one of the four citizen seats reserved for the GOP.

The Mercury could not independently review Feliciano’s Twitter account because it was taken down after he was appointed to the redistricting commission last week. Feliciano said he took the account down Saturday “as a protest to them suspending President Trump.” In an email to the Mercury, Feliciano verified the tweets were his. He said that, in anger, he “used some language I should not have used,” adding what’s “done is done.”

“Looks like other posts are singled out because I am pro Trump, well I am pro Trump,” he said.

Twitter suspended Trump’s account over the president’s role in inspiring the attack on the U.S. Capitol last week by the president’s supporters, violence Feliciano said he fully condemns.

Feliciano was among the 16 nominees for the commission put forward by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah.

His application included a letter of recommendation from Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, who recently signed on to a letter asking Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Virginia’s 13 Electoral College votes for President-elect Joe Biden based on unfounded fraud suspicions.

House GOP spokesman Garren Shipley declined to comment on Feliciano’s tweets, saying “we don’t comment on redistricting matters.”

Amigo Wade, a legislative staffer who worked with the judges on the process, said the selection committee “will not comment on its decisions regarding the selection of the citizen members.”

The redistricting process hasn’t started yet. The seats on the 16-member commission, approved by voters in November, were just recently filled, with Gilbert and other General Assembly leaders playing a key role in picking which of the more than than 1,200 Virginians who applied were best equipped for the important work of redrawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps in a fair manner.

The eight citizen members were nominated by political leaders in the General Assembly and selected by a panel of retired judges. The other eight seats are reserved for sitting legislators.

Feliciano wasn’t included on the initial shortlist of finalists chosen by the judges, but they added him after realizing their list had no Hispanic members. In his application, Feliciano listed his race as White and Hispanic as his ethnicity.

With eight seats meant to go to Democrats and eight to Republicans, the commission wasn’t designed to be nonpartisan. However, it was generally understood as a way to avoid hyperpartisanship in redistricting.

One of Feliciano’s tweets was directed at the actor Peter Fonda, who made headlines in 2018 for tweeting that Barron Trump, the president’s youngest son, “should be put in a cage with pedophiles,” an apparent response to the controversy over immigrant children being separated from their parents at the southern border. Fonda later apologized for the remark.

In a June 2018 tweet to Fonda, Feliciano said: “you’re a piece of sh*t mother f**ker no different than you b**ch c**t sister!” His post did not use asterisks.

Fonda’s sister is Jane Fonda, an 83-year-old actress and left-wing activist who has sharply criticized Trump.

During the 2018 Winter Olympics, when Vonn failed to win a gold medal after drawing the ire of Trump supporters for saying she wouldn’t visit the White House, Feliciano tweeted to Vonn: “Congratulations great to see that you fell flat on your face, happy losing you losing bimbo.”

On Jan. 5, the day before Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, Feliciano tweeted a video that he suggested showed a police officer giving a “green light” for counter-protesters to “harass and attack Trump supporters.”

In response to a Jan. 5 Trump tweet touting the Jan. 6 rally that devolved into mayhem, Feliciano responded with a photo calling Trump the “GREATEST PRESIDENT IN MODERN DAY HISTORY.”

Felicano said he condemns the violence at the Capitol, calling the events a “complete disgrace.”

“Those criminals put a stain on all the good that has come from the Trump administration, and I hope each and everyone of them is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Feliciano said.

Though the NDRC attempted to portray Feliciano as a conspiracy theorist, some of the posts the group highlighted seem to be fairly typical of online conservative discourse.

For example, the group flagged a Feliciano tweet in which he said former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was hit with the heaviest campaign finance fine in American history. That $375,000 fine has been widely described by news outlets as one of the largest ever.

During the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, when U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said America didn’t “inherit” racism and slavery but instead “our founders and our government carefully created it,” Feliciano responded with a tweet saying the Atlantic slave trade predated America and began with Portugal. He said Kaine should “take a history class.”

“Explain to me how we own the slave trade,” he wrote.

A spokeswoman for the NDRC said Feliciano’s “tone on Twitter alone is disqualifying to serve on the powerful bipartisan redistricting commission.”

“How is Feliciano going to act as a commissioner working in good faith and in the best interest for all Virginians when he shares lies, misogyny and questions America’s involvement with slavery?” said NDRC spokeswoman Molly Mitchell.

Feliciano called himself a “descendant of slaves” and said he “in no way” questioned America’s role in slavery.

“I was only pointing out the fact of where and how slavery originated who started it and how it ended up on American shores,” he said.

Of Gilbert’s 16 nominees to the commission, all but Feliciano were White and non-Hispanic.

Feliciano said he was honored to be picked for the commission and plans to work for “all the people of the Commonwealth both Democrat and Republican.”

“I used intemperate language on social media, like millions of others have,” he said. “I regret my choice of words but it has no bearing on my ability to do the job.”

In his letter of recommendation, Cole called Feliciano “hard worker, a person of integrity, and honor.”

“I am confident he would be impartial and do a great job,” Cole wrote.

Cole’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

The commission, which will begin redrawing maps when new U.S. Census date comes in later this year, is scheduled to hold its first meeting by Feb. 1.

Retired judges pick eight citizen members for Virginia redistricting commission
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw January 6, 2021 (Medium)
The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

A panel of retired judges on Wednesday picked the eight Virginia citizens who will serve on the state’s new redistricting commission, finalizing the group that will handle the important task of redrawing the state’s political maps when new U.S. Census data arrives.

The judges spent hours trying to solve the puzzle of winnowing more than 60 finalists down to eight people who, by law, were supposed to represent Virginia’s geographic, racial and gender diversity.

“We’ve got to check a number of boxes here,” said retired Judge Pamela Baskervill, who chaired the five-judge panel assembled to choose the citizen members.

More than 1,200 people applied for the eight seats late last year. But the judges could only pick from four lists of 16 finalists submitted by four legislative leaders in the General Assembly.

The judges picked six men and two women to fill the eight citizen seats on the 16-member commission.

Four of the chosen members are White (three non-Hispanic and one Hispanic), two are Black, one is Asian American and one is multi-racial.

Three of the members are from Northern Virginia and two are from the Richmond area. Southwest Virginia, Southside and Hampton Roads will each have one citizen representative on the commission.

The group includes four self-identified Democrats and four who identified as Republicans.

The selected citizen members are:

Nominees of Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth:

  • James Abrenio, 37, of Fairfax, a trial lawyer.
  • Sean S. Kumar, 41, of Alexandria, a strategic advisor and lawyer.

Nominees of House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax:

  • Brandon Christopher Hutchins, 39, of Virginia Beach, a military veteran and health care professional.
  • Greta J. Harris, 60, of Richmond, president and CEO of the Better Housing Coalition.

Nominees of Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City:

  • Marvin W. Gilliam Jr., 64, of Bristol, a retired coal mining executive.
  • Richard O. Harrell III, 74, of South Boston, a trucking executive.

Nominees of House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah:

  • Jose A. Feliciano Jr., 52, of Fredericksburg, a military veteran and federal agent with the FCC’s public safety bureau.
  • Mackenzie K. Babichenko, 36, of Mechanicsville, an assistant prosecutor in Hanover County.

(Note: Some applicants were nominated as finalists by multiple legislative leaders, but the judges had to pick two from each leader’s list.)

The other eight seats on the commission will be filled by sitting state legislators.

The commission, approved by voters in a ballot referendum last year, will soon get to work preparing to redraw Virginia’s legislative and congressional districts, a process previously handled wholly by the General Assembly. Because of uncertainty surrounding the 2020 Census data, the exact timeline for the commission’s work is unclear. New maps are supposed to be in place in time for House of Delegates elections this November, but Census delays may make it impossible to redraw the districts in time.

Whenever the state receives solid data on population shifts, the commission’s decisions could impact the partisan tilt of the statehouse and the congressional delegation for the next decade.

Critics of the commission proposal warned that it lacked adequate provisions to ensure a diverse group of people would be at the table for the next redistricting process. But diversity seemed to be a top priority for the judges, with their discussion centering more on whether they were achieving the right balance rather than the backgrounds and qualifications of specific applicants.

Comparing notes on which candidates stood out to them, the judges initially narrowed the finalists down to a group of 19. They then realized their shortlist lacked any Hispanic applicants and didn’t include anyone from the Eastern Shore/Northern Neck region. The panel made a point of adding at least one Hispanic applicant (Feliciano) after retired retired Judge Larry B. Kirksey said he was troubled by the lack of Hispanic representation. But several judges said it was nearly impossible to create a perfectly representative commission given their limited options for just eight slots.

“’We can only work with the list of folks that came to us from the members of the General Assembly,” said retired Judge Joanne F. Alper. “We didn’t have access to the whole 1,200.”

Alper said she felt it was important to include at least one member from the Southside and Southwest regions, even though their shortlist only included White men from those areas.

“You need somebody at least that has some knowledge of that region,” she said.

Some progressives had raised alarms that the pool of applicants was disproportionately White and wealthy, pointing to an analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project.

The application process was open to everyone willing to fill out the form and provide three reference letters, but the judges also grappled with strict, General Assembly-imposed limitations on who was eligible to serve.

To prevent cronyism, the legislature passed rules barring political aides, lobbyists, partisan operatives and family members of elected officials from serving on the commission. But those rules also forced the judges to reluctantly strike one applicant whose wife previously worked on Capitol Hill.

Several judges said they were impressed by both the quantity and quality of the applicants interested in serving on the commission.

“I’m just amazed by the diversity, the energy, the brilliance,” said Kirksey.  “Not just brightness. There is brilliance on this list.”

Va. political leaders name 8 legislators who’ll serve on new redistricting commission
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw December 1, 2020 (Medium)
The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The group of eight Democratic and Republican legislators who will serve on Virginia’s new redistricting commission will be made up of five men and three women, including two senior members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.

The legislative members, who will wield significant power over how legislative and congressional districts are redrawn when new U.S. Census data comes in next year, come from districts that touch most regions of the state, ensuring some level of geographic diversity in the process.

Leaders of the General Assembly’s four political caucuses announced their appointees to the commission this week, filling half the seats on a newly created commission voters approved in a referendum last month. Instead of having the full General Assembly draw new political maps itself, the eight legislators on the 16-person commission will work with eight citizen members to draft new maps for the decade ahead. The application window for citizens who want to serve on the commission opened this week and will close on Dec. 28.

The map-drawing process could shape which party holds power in Richmond, which incumbents can safely win re-election and which might face challenges, and how much clout geographic regions will have in the state legislature.

As they work to set up the commission, Republican and Democratic leaders in the two chambers got to pick two appointees each from their own ranks.

Those appointees are:

House Democrats

  • Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax
  • Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond

House Republicans

  • Del. Les Adams, R-Chatham
  • Del. Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland

Senate Democrats

  • Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton
  • Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax

Senate Republicans

  • Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg
  • Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover

Each two-person caucus unit is important because, according to the commission rules, each one could block a map proposal even if the other three groups support it. That system is meant to foster collaboration and bipartisanship, but if the commission fails to approve a plan it would fall to the Supreme Court of Virginia to oversee the creation of maps drawn by appointed experts.

Six of the legislative members supported the commission proposal when it was passed by the General Assembly earlier this year. The two House Democrats did not. Nor did Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, who appointed them.

One of the opponents’ primary concerns was that the commission might not be diverse enough.

“A Redistricting Commission that represents the racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity of the commonwealth is necessary to ensure every Virginian has a voice in the redistricting process and in our government,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “Commissioners will need to be committed to inclusion and dedicated to a fair redistricting process that protects the vote of every Virginian. These are the standards for individuals I am appointing as legislators today and my recommendations for citizen members to the commission moving forward.”

In an interview, Simon, who fought the redistricting amendment hard during the 2020 session and in the run-up to the election, said he expects to “be there to sort of keep an eye on things.”

“I think we want to deliver to voters what they expected,” Simon said. “Which is a fair process and maps that sort of reflect the political makeup of Virginia.”

The Senate’s picks largely reflect seniority. Locke and Barker were major supporters of the redistricting reform push. Locke is chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and Barker was a patron of the constitutional amendment creating the commission.

“These two leaders have the experience, knowledge, and historical context of redistricting and also are keenly aware of the importance of making sure we have diverse representation in our Commissioners,” Sen. Louse Lucas, D-Portsmouth, who made the Democrats’ picks as the president pro tempore of the Senate, said in a news release. “Senators Locke and Barker have been involved in this process for years and I know they will be a great addition to the commission.”

McDougle is the Republican caucus chair, and Newman served as president pro tempore of the Senate before Republicans lost their majority last year.

The picks from House Republicans were somewhat surprising. Neither Adams nor Ransone is a member of the House GOP leadership, and neither are seen as particularly outspoken partisan warriors.

In a news release, House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, noted that both Adams and Ransone “supported the creation of the commission throughout.”

“With their combined knowledge and experience, I have no doubt they will help craft what the voters have demanded — fair maps for every Virginian,” Gilbert said.

Virginia General Assembly passes rules for newly approved redistricting commission
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw November 9, 2020 (Short)
Voters cast ballots at Charles M. Johnson Elementary School in Henrico County. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

With Virginia’s redistricting debate now settled by voters, state lawmakers approved a package of rules Monday for how the new, bipartisan map-drawing commission will work next year.

Democrats’ dispute over the redistricting commission, which almost 66 percent of Virginia voters approved last week, delayed the formal conclusion of the special session that began in August. To settle it, legislative leaders and Gov. Ralph Northam agreed to pass a post-election budget amendment allowing the commission to be set up and begin its work next year.

Democrats in the House of Delegates had opposed putting the language in the budget as the session seemed to be coming to a close last month. They argued voters should decide on the constitutional amendment creating the commission as it stood, without any improvements added legislatively.

On Monday, a few House Democrats gave speeches saying they still feel the commission idea is flawed, but will respect the result.

“The people have spoken in great numbers and they wanted to see changes in how the redistricting process happens in Virginia,” said Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, an outspoken critic of the commission proposal who called it “regrettable that there was so much confusion and misinformation” about the redistricting question on the ballot.

The House voted 99-0 to approve the redistricting language. It also easily cleared the Senate.

Proponents of the change have hailed the commission as a much-needed change to a system that has given elected legislators free rein to draw districts to benefit themselves or their party behind closed doors.

“From the start, this movement has been about putting the voices of citizens above politicians and political parties,” the redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021 said in a statement celebrating the commission’s passage.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a 16-person commission with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats and seats split between sitting legislators and citizen members. Once new U.S. Census data is received in 2021, the commission will redraw Virginia’s congressional and legislative districts, a process that could determine partisan control in Richmond.

The commission’s members will be appointed in the coming weeks, and the panel has to hold its first meeting before Feb. 1.

The budget language approved Monday lays out who is eligible to serve on the commission and the process it will follow.

Among other things, the language:

  • Bans people who hold partisan offices, political aides, campaign employees, lobbyists and others from being appointed to the citizen seats to the commission. It also bans political insiders’ relatives from serving on the commission.
  • Stipulates that the commission’s makeup should reflect Virginia’s “racial, ethnic, geographic and gender diversity.”
  • Declares that the commission’s records, including internal communications, are public and subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Bans commission members from discussing redistricting-related matters with any third parties “outside of a public meeting or hearing.”
  • Requires the Supreme Court of Virginia to appoint two experts, or special masters, to draw court-overseen maps if the commission and the General Assembly fail to agree on their own. The special masters would be picked from lists submitted by political leaders from both parties.
  • Requires any Supreme Court judge related to a member of Congress or the General Assembly to recuse themselves from any redistricting decision. Current Justice Teresa M. Chafin is the sister of state Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon.
In historic change, Virginia voters approve bipartisan commission to handle political redistricting
Virginia Mercury, Graham Moomaw et al.November 4, 2020 (Medium)
Voters arrive at the Taylor Masonic Lodge in Scottsville, Va., Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

For years, redistricting reform advocates have been arguing something should be done to curb Virginia’s long history of political gerrymandering.

On Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly agreed, passing a constitutional amendment that largely strips the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts, a historic shift in a system that dates back to Virginia’s colonial beginnings.

Wielding that power instead will be a 16-member, bipartisan redistricting commission made up of both sitting lawmakers and citizens, a panel designed to conduct its business publicly as opposed to the secretive, insider-driven processes of the past.

In a year of intense partisan division, the idea of depoliticizing the redistricting process seemed to draw broad support across parties and regions. With almost 90 percent of expected votes counted early Wednesday morning, about 67 percent of Virginians had voted in favor of the amendment.

Though some votes were still uncounted, FairMapsVA, the anti-gerrymandering group pushing for the amendment with its parent organization OneVirginia2021, declared victory around 12:40 a.m., saying the result came after six years of work.

“Tonight, we celebrate the formation of Virginia’s first citizen-led redistricting commission; and tomorrow, we get back to work to ensure the commission’s work is successful,” the group said in a statement.

The outcome ensures that the next redistricting process — which could determine how much representation Virginia communities have, which political party is likely to hold power in Richmond and which incumbents are or aren’t safe from election challenges — will have at least some direct citizen involvement for the first time ever.

Once a decade, the state uses new U.S. Census data to redraw legislative and congressional maps to ensure each district has roughly the same population. How those districts are drawn can have far-reaching impacts, affecting which party can win a majority of the seats, electoral competitiveness, how much political power minority communities have and which individual politicians get to represent a particular area. So it’s no surprise that changing who draws those maps was a contentious endeavor.

The vote on the redistricting question, coupled with strong Democratic victories in Tuesday’s statewide races, reveals a disconnect between some Democratic leaders and the party’s voters.

Many Democrats in the House of Delegates voted against the commission proposal this year after voting for it in 2019, a reversal they said came after they had more time to consider its flaws. The Democratic Party of Virginia also officially opposed the initiative despite the fact that it was supported by senior Virginia Democrats like U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. Had the amendment failed, the Democratic-led General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam would have the final say on new maps.

Fair Districts VA, an advocacy group formed by Democrats opposed to the ballot question, conceded defeat early Wednesday morning, saying it had been “fighting an uphill battle.” The group demanded that more be done to pursue stronger redistricting reform going forward.

“The people who pushed Amendment 1 know of its flaws – and it is now incumbent upon them to seek real solutions to fix those flaws,” Fair Districts said in a news release.

The proposal was supported by national good-government groups as well as the ACLU of Virginia, the League of Women Voters of Virginia and the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. But it fell short of what many redistricting reformers envisioned: a fully independent commission that gives incumbent politicians no power whatsoever to draw their own districts.

Because Virginia has no process for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments, it’s always been up to state lawmakers to willingly give up their redistricting power. In previous years, the Republican-led House of Delegates routinely blocked redistricting reform efforts. But GOP leaders changed their position in 2019 after federal courts redrew some House districts to correct Republican-led racial gerrymandering, a development that helped put the House GOP majority in jeopardy heading into the 2019 elections.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, argued unsuccessfully in March for an alternative redistricting amendment that was supported by a majority of Democrats in the House of Delegates. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Reserving half the seats for legislators was seen as a compromise that still gives General Assembly leaders a hand in redistricting, which can have career-ending consequences for incumbents whose districts change dramatically.

Maps produced by the new commission will go to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote. If the commission can’t agree on maps or the General Assembly rejects the commission’s maps, the Supreme Court of Virginia would conduct a court-supervised redistricting process.

Opponents have also argued the commission proposal lacks explicit protections for minority communities. Supporters say the amendment achieves that by referencing the federal Voting Rights Act and specifying that districts will allow “opportunities for racial and ethnic communities to elect candidates of their choice.”

The insidery arguments about the commission’s particulars seemed to escape many Virginians.

Some voters said they hadn’t heard about the redistricting amendment until they saw it on their ballot Tuesday, drawing disparate conclusions about its potential impact from the one-paragraph description they read in the voting booth.

At a polling place in downtown Richmond, none sounded especially confident in their interpretations.

“It’s so convoluted if you read it from the back of a voter ballot,” said Patrick Ogden, who ultimately decided to vote no because he opposed the idea of stripping the governor of his authority to veto redistricting plans and giving the unelected members of the Supreme Court of Virginia a role in the process. “I believe the governor should have a little more say. At least that’s what I read from it.”

Sasha Atkins, who also voted no, said the explanation on the ballot made her worry the amendment wouldn’t give regular citizens enough of a say in the redistricting process. “We should be representing ourselves,” she said.

Another voter at the same polling place said she voted for the measure, but only because she thought it addressed how local school districts redraw their boundaries.

In Southwest Virginia’s Franklin County, Gary Holden of Ferrum said he supported the commission while voting “straight-ticket Democrat.” He said he saw the commission as preferable to the current system “so long as it’s made up of equal parties.”

In Virginia Beach, 44-year-old schoolteacher Scott Parker said he voted for the redistricting amendment because he wanted to bring more logic to the process.

At the same polling place, Janise Jenkins, a 39-year-old property manager, also said the amendment would be an improvement on the status quo.

“It will be fair, more reasonable,” she said.

The commission was approved just in time to handle the redistricting process scheduled for 2021, but pandemic-related delays with the census data could create severe timing issues. With all 100 seats in the House of Delegates up for election next year, officials will have to rush to get new districts in place in time for late-summer primaries and a shortened general-election cycle.

If the delays make it impossible to draw new districts in time, the House elections could potentially be run using existing district lines. The state could also be left scrambling if there appear to be major problems with the census count conducted in such a chaotic year.

In the short term, officials will get to work setting up the commission and deciding who will serve on it. By Nov. 15, the state Supreme Court is supposed to submit a list of retired judges willing to serve on a selection committee that will pick the citizen members from nominees floated by General Assembly leaders. The commission’s eight legislative members are scheduled to be appointed by Dec. 1.

The commission has to hold its first public meeting by Feb. 1.

First, the General Assembly will reconvene to pass additional rules for how the commission will work. Those rules were being considered for inclusion in the state budget during the recent special session, but the fierce intraparty debate among Democrats over the amendment led lawmakers to keep the budget process open until after the outcome was known.

With the amendment approved by voters, the legislature is set to return next week to finish that work.

About

Background

Redistricting in the United States is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries. A congressional act enacted in 1967 requires that representatives be elected from single-member districts, except when a state has a single representative, in which case one state-wide at-large election be held.

Redistricting criteria

From Wikipedia
The Reapportionment Act of 1929 withdrew the size and population requirements for Congressional districts, last stated in the Apportionment Act of 1911. The previous apportionment acts required districts be contiguous, compact, and equally populated.

Each state can set its own standards for Congressional and legislative districts. In addition to equalizing the population of districts and complying with federal requirements, criteria may include attempting to create compact, contiguous districts, trying to keep political units and communities within a single district, and avoiding the drawing of boundaries for purposes of partisan advantage or incumbent protection.

Redistricting may follow other criteria depending on State and local laws:

  1. compactness
  2. contiguity
  3. equal population
  4. preservation of existing political communities
  5. partisan fairness
  6. racial fairness

Gerrymandering

From Wikipedia

Gerrymandering in the United States has been used to increase the power of a political party. The term “gerrymandering” was coined by a review of Massachusetts’s redistricting maps of 1812 set by Governor Elbridge Gerry that was named because one of the districts looked like a salamander.

Gerrymandering, in other words, is the practice of setting boundaries of electoral districts to favor specific political interests within legislative bodies, often resulting in districts with convoluted, winding boundaries rather than compact areas.

In the United States, redistricting takes place in each state about every ten years, after the decennial census. It defines geographical boundaries, with each district within a state being geographically contiguous and having about the same number of state voters. The resulting map affects the elections of the state’s members of the US House of Representatives and the state legislative bodies. Redistricting has always been regarded as a political exercise and in most states, it is controlled by state legislators and governor. When one party controls the state’s legislative bodies and governor’s office, it is in a strong position to gerrymander district boundaries to advantage its side and to disadvantage its political opponents. Since 2010, detailed maps and high-speed computing have facilitated gerrymandering by political parties in the redistricting process, in order to gain control of state legislation and congressional representation, and to potentially maintain that control over several decades even against shifting political changes in a state’s population. Gerrymandering has been sought as unconstitutional in many instances, but it has made many elections more representative[citation needed]. Even as redistricting can advantage the party in control of the process, political science research suggests that its effects are not as large as critics may say. It does not necessarily “advantage incumbents, reduce competitiveness, or exacerbate political polarization.”

Typical gerrymandering cases in the United States take the form of partisan gerrymandering, which is aimed at favor in one political party or weaken another; bipartisan gerrymandering, which is aimed at protecting incumbents by multiple political parties; and racial gerrymandering, which is aimed at weakening the power of minority voters.

Gerrymandering can also recreate districts with the aim of maximizing the number of racial minorities to assist particular nominees, who are minorities themselves. In some other cases that have the same goal of diluting the minority vote, the districts are reconstructed in a way that packs minority voters into a smaller or limited number of districts.

2000-2010
The potential to gerrymander a district map has been aided by advances in computing power and capabilities. Using geographic information system and census data as input, mapmakers can use computers to process through numerous potential map configurations to achieve desired results, including partisan gerrymandering.[Computers can assess voter preferences and use that to “pack” or “crack” votes into districts. Packing votes refers to concentrating voters in one voting district by redrawing congressional boundaries so that those in opposition of the party in charge of redistricting are placed into one larger district, therefore reducing the party’s congressional representation. Cracking refers to diluting the voting power of opposition voters across many districts by redrawing congressional boundaries so that voting minority populations in each district are reduced, therefore lowering the chance of a district-oriented congressional takeover. Both techniques lead to what the Times describes as “wasted votes,” which are votes that do not supply a party with any victory. These can either be a surplus of votes in one district for one party that are above the threshold needed to win, or any vote that has resulted in a loss. A study done by the University of Delaware mentions situations in which an incumbent that is required to live in the district they represent can be “hijacked” or “kidnapped” into a neighboring district due to the redrawing of congressional boundaries, subsequently placing them in districts that are more difficult for them to win in.Partisan gerrymandering oftentimes leads to benefits for a particular political party, or, in some cases, a race.

2010-2020
In the lead-up to the 2010 United States elections, the Republican party initiated a program called REDMAP, the Redistricting Majority Project, which recognized that the party in control of state legislatures would have the ability to set their congressional and legislative district maps based on the pending 2010 United States Census in manner to assure that party’s control over the next ten years. The Republicans took significant gains from the 2010 elections across several states, and by 2011 and 2012, some of the new district maps showed Republican advantage through perceived partisan gerrymandering. This set the stage for several legal challenges from voters and groups in the court system, including several heard at the Supreme Court level.

In 2015, Thomas Hofeller was hired by the Washington Free Beacon to analyze what would happen if political maps were drawn based on the population of U.S. citizens of voting age rather than on the total population. He concluded that doing so “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” Although the study was not published, it was discovered after his death in 2018.[19] Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross Jr. have refused to cooperate with an investigation into why the Trump administration added a U.S. citizenship question to the 2020 census and specifically whether it seeks to benefit Republicans as suggested by Hofeller’s study.

Several state court rulings found partisan gerrymandering to be impermissible under state constitutions, and several state ballot measures passed in 2018 that require non-partisan commissions for the 2020 redistricting cycle.

 

Congress

Redistricting Bills – 116th Congress

While states are responsible for drawing congressional districts every ten years, Congress has the power under the Constitution’s Elections Clause (Art. I, sec. 4) to set rules governing how states draw districts. Congress has used this power in the past, for example, to mandate that states use single-member districts.

Below are the redistricting and census-related bills that members have filed during the 116th Congress. For information on redistricting and census-related bills filed in state legislatures, please visit our State Redistricting Bill Tracker.

_____

H.R. 1: Bill to enact various democracy reforms, including requiring states to create fifteen-member independent commissions to draw congressional districts and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Ranked criteria include racial fairness provision, protection for communities of interest, and ban on partisan gerrymandering
  • Requires at least three public hearings before and after a plan is drafted; requires the commission to submit a report that includes responses to public comment alongside the final plan

H.R. 4: Bill revising the coverage formula for jurisdictions that must preclear election law changes – including redistricting plans – under Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

H.R. 36: Bill expressing sense of Congress that partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts should be banned

H.R. 44: Bill prohibiting states from carrying out mid-decade congressional redistricting

H.R. 124: Bill prohibiting states from carrying out mid-decade congressional redistricting, requiring states to create political appointee commissions for congressional redistricting, and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Criteria partially ranked
  • Requires commission to create a website for public notice and input

H.R. 130: Identical bill to H.R. 124

H.R. 131: Bill requiring certain measures of transparency during congressional redistricting, requiring state redistricting entities to:

  • Create a website for public notice and input
  • Hold at least one public hearing on both the preliminary and final plans
  • Release a report accompanying the final plan explaining the reasons for adoption

H.R. 163: Bill requiring states to create commissions and implement open primaries for federal elections

H.R. 181: Bill limiting the penalty imposed on individuals who refuse to answer questions on the decennial census

H.R. 732: Bill prohibiting the Secretary of Commerce from implementing a design feature or adding any question not tested for at least three years to the decennial census

H.R. 794: Bill directing the Secretary of Commerce to adjust federal census population data to reflect incarcerated persons’ pre-incarceration residential addresses

H.R. 1320: Bill requiring the decennial census to include a citizenship question

H.R. 1612: Bill to enact various democracy reforms, including requiring states to create fifteen-member independent commissions to draw congressional districts and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Ranked criteria, including racial fairness provision, protection for communities of interest, and ban on partisan gerrymandering
  • Requires at least three public hearings before and after a plan is drafted; requires the commission to submit a report that includes responses to public comment alongside the final plan

H.R. 1734: Bill prohibiting the inclusion of citizenship, nationality, or immigration status questions on the decennial census

H.R. 1799: Bill revising the coverage formula for determining the jurisdictions that must preclear election law changes – including redistricting plans – under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

H.R. 2057: Bill directing the Attorney General to enter into an agreement with the National Academies to study and recommend best congressional redistricting practices to Congress

H.R. 3572: Bill requiring states to create fifteen-member independent commissions to draw congressional districts and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Ranked criteria include racial fairness provision, protection for communities of interest, and a ban on partisan gerrymandering
  • Requires at least three public hearings before and after a plan is drafted; requires the commission to submit a report that includes responses to public comment alongside the final plan

H.R. 3765: Companion bill to S. 1358

H.R. 4000: Bill enacting ranked choice voting and multimember congressional districts, creating fifteen-member independent commissions to draw congressional districts, and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Ranked criteria, including racial fairness provision and ban on statewide partisan gerrymandering
  • Requires at least three public hearings before and after a plan is drafted; requires the commission to submit a report that includes responses to public comment alongside the final plan

H.R. 4412: Bill prohibiting the U.S. Census Bureau from including citizenship information in the population data reported to states for legislative redistricting

S. 201: Bill requiring the decennial census to count the total number of people in each state and prohibiting the addition of citizenship or immigration status questions

S. 358: Companion bill to H.R. 732

S. 561: Companion bill to H.R. 4

S. 949: Bill to enact various democracy reforms, including requiring states to create fifteen-member independent commissions to draw congressional districts and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Ranked criteria, including racial fairness provision, protection for communities of interest, and ban on partisan gerrymandering
  • Requires at least three public hearings before and after a plan is drafted; requires the commission to submit a report that includes responses to public comment alongside the final plan

S. 1358: Bill requiring the decennial census to include a citizenship question

S. 1972: Bill establishing redistricting criteria

  • Congressional districts only
  • Unranked criteria, including racial fairness provision, protection for communities of interests, and ban on partisan gerrymandering
  • Provides for the right of any eligible voter in a state to contest a gerrymandered map

S.2068: Bill prohibiting the Secretary of Commerce from including citizenship information in the population data reported to states for legislative redistricting

S.2233: Bill nullifying the effect of Executive Order 13880 (“Collecting Information About Citizenship Status in Connection With the Decennial Census”)

S. 2226: Bill requiring states to create fifteen-member independent commissions to draw congressional districts and establishing redistricting criteria

  • Ranked criteria include racial fairness provision, protection for communities of interest, and a ban on partisan gerrymandering
  • Requires at least three public hearings before and after a plan is drafted; requires the commission to submit a report that includes responses to public comment alongside the final plan

 

Fair Representation Act

Congressman Don Beyer has led the US House efforts to enact the Fair Representation Act.

Below is a summary of these efforts from Don Beyer’s government website.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and a group of House Democrats today introduced the Fair Representation Act, an election reform bill to change the way U.S. Representatives are elected. The bill, which includes a provision requiring that all Congressional districts be drawn by independent commissions to prevent gerrymandering, came soon after the Supreme Court’s decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, which upheld political gerrymandering.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold political gerrymandering is the latest in a series of terrible setbacks for our democracy, and our legislation would help put the country back on the right track,” said Rep. Beyer. “At a time when Americans have waning faith in institutions and political leadership, the Fair Representation Act would help restore the trust which so many have lost in our political system. This bill would ensure that every voter has their voice represented in Congress, and make real progress towards bipartisan focus on getting results for the American people.”

Beyer was joined in introducing the bill by Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Jim Cooper (D-TN), and Jim McGovern (D-MA).

“American democracy needs a new engine, which is embodied in this legislation,“ said Rep. Raskin. “I’m proud to cosponsor the Fair Representation Act to make our elections more positive and our government more representative. Let’s open up American politics to new voices, new choices and representation for all.”

“Reforming Congress will empower citizens to reclaim our democracy,” said Rep. Khanna. “The Fair Representation Act would help increase representation for communities left out of our political system and open up the two-party system to much-needed choice for voters. I thank Representative Beyer for his courage in reintroducing such a bold solution to reform American elections.”

The Fair Representation Act would move US House elections into multi-member districts drawn by independent redistricting commissions and elected through ranked choice voting. Taken together, these three measures would incentivize congressional candidates to appeal to a broader range of voters.

“Partisan politics and gerrymandering have taken over our elections and helped create the gridlock we’re seeing in Congress,” Rep. Cooper said. “This bill will allow the voices of more Americans to be heard.”

“Our democracy is in serious jeopardy. Right now, we have a system in many states where our representatives are picking the people who vote for them instead of the other way around. If that weren’t bad enough, last month the Supreme Court further undermined faith in our government by upholding this awful practice,” said Rep. McGovern. “I’m proud to join with Representative Beyer to introduce this critical bill, and I’m grateful for his leadership to ensure that every voice is heard and every vote matters.”

The Fair Representation Act was hailed by nonpartisan organizations FairVote, RepresentWomen, and Feminist Majority Foundation.

“Congress must fix partisan gerrymandering, yet can’t stop with independent commissions. We must replace winner-take-all elections with the Fair Representation Act to represent the millions of voters who, defying partisan stereotypes, could bridge our seemingly unbridgeable political divides. Ensuring every voter matters in every election is the best way to reverse what has become quite literally a death spiral for our constitutional order,” said Rob Richie, President and CEO of FairVote.

“Despite gains for women in the 2018 midterm elections, women remain under-represented at every level of government. I support the Fair Representation Act because it will help to elect significantly more women to Congress by opening up the political process so that more women can run and win,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation.

“No single reform would create more opportunities for women and people of color from across the spectrum to compete in fair elections,” said Cynthia Richie Terrell, founder of RepresentWomen. “It is central to our vision of how we achieve parity for women in congressional elections.”

Full text of the Fair Representation Act may be found here, and more resources, including factsheets and FAQ’s, are available from FairVote here.

 

Redistricting Commission

From OneVirginia2021 Foundation webpage

On November 3, 2020, Virginia voters approved an amendment to the state constitution, which will create the first Virginia Redistricting Commission.
See the full text of the amendment here.

The General Assembly also passed enabling legislation in the state budget that elaborates on how the commission will operate, who will be eligible to serve, the diversity requirements throughout the process, and the rules by which the Supreme Court of Virginia must abide should they end up needing to establish the maps.
See the full text of the budget language here.

To view the full timeline for the 2021 redistricting process, click here.

To visit the new Virginia Redistricting website to learn more and see updated information and interactive maps, click here.

If you have further questions about the process or the eligibility requirements, email varedist@dls.virginia.gov.

The members of the first Virginia Redistricting Commission are:

Del. Les Adams (R, Chatham)
James Abrenio (D, Fairfax)
Mackenzie K. Babichenko (R, Mechanicsville)
Sen. George Barker (D, Fairfax)
Jose A. Feliciano, Jr. (R, Fredericksburg)
Marvin W. Gilliam (R, Bristol)
Richard O. Harrell, III (R, South Boston)
Greta J. Harris (D, Richmond)
Brandon Hutchins (D, Virginia Beach)
Sean S. Kumar (D, Alexandria)
Sen. Mamie Locke (D, Hampton)
Sen. Ryan McDougle (R, Mechanicsville)
Del. Delores McQuinn (D, Richmond)
Sen. Steve Newman (R, Forest)
Del. Margaret Ransone (R, Kinsale)
Del. Marcus Simon (D, Falls Church)

HOW WERE THE COMMISSIONERS CHOSEN?

Districts will be drawn by a commission composed of 8 citizens and 8 legislators, with one of the citizens serving as the Chair. The citizen selection process – which was recently completed – was politically balanced, and the final determination of who serves was made by a panel of five retired circuit court judges (see below.)

In making its selections, the selection committee was required to give consideration to the racial, ethnic, geographic, and gender diversity of the Commonwealth.

See VPAP’s visual guide to the full process here.

WHO IS ON THE SELECTION COMMITTEE?

The judges chosen by legislative leaders from both parties to be on the Redistricting Selection Committee are:
The Hon. Pamela Baskervill (Chair – Petersburg)
The Hon. Joanne F. Alper (Arlington)
The Hon. William C. Andrews, III (Williamsburg)
The Hon. Larry B. Kirksey (Bristol)
The Hon. David Pugh (Newport News)

Click here for the video of their first public meeting.

Community Mapping

From Monday Jan. 11, 2021 OneVirginia2021 email

Now that the Virginia Redistricting Commission members have been selected, we are looking ahead at the public input part of the process. The new redistricting laws say that those drawing the maps must consider communities of interest in their decisions, which begs the question, how do they know what those communities are?

The short answer is: the public has to tell them! Our focus going forward is to empower citizens to provide information about their communities to the Commission in a clear and usable way. The primary tool we have to offer is community mapping programs. These websites (Districtr, created by Tufts University, and Representable, created by Princeton University) do not require the user to create an account or download anything – they simply allow any member of the public to submit a map that shows a community that should be kept together in the new district maps.

You probably have lots of questions about this, and the best way to get answers is to attend the trainings this week! See our events page for a full listing of this week’s Representable and Districtr training sessions hosted by the League of Women Voters of Virginia, as well as the sign up links.

We’re looking forward to this next phase of the process and the historic opportunity for Virginians to make their voices heard in the redistricting process.

X
Virginia onAir Highlights 22020 Virginia Election Results

In the presidential race, Joe Biden won Virginia’s 13 electoral votes

In the U.S. Senate race, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner won his third term. Democrats have not lost a statewide election in Virginia since 2009. Warner is a former governor and current vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Virginia’s three first-term congresswomen Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton all won their seats although Spanberger had a close race with GOP challenger Nick Freitas.

Bob Good defeated Cameron Webb to replace David Riggleman in US House District Five.

Summary

In the presidential race, Joe Biden won Virginia’s 13 electoral votes

In the U.S. Senate race, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner won his third term. Democrats have not lost a statewide election in Virginia since 2009. Warner is a former governor and current vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Virginia’s three first-term congresswomen Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton all won their seats although Spanberger had a close race with GOP challenger Nick Freitas.

Bob Good defeated Cameron Webb to replace David Riggleman in US House District Five.

Results of 2020 Virginia Election

Voting process

Source: Virginia Mercury

Virginia deserves credit for making it easier for people to vote, but reporting the results needs work

Bob Lewis, November 9, 2020

Voters cast ballots at Main Street Station in Richmond. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

That sense of whiplash you may have felt as you watched election returns in Virginia after its largest turnout election ever —more than 4.1 million votes — is not your imagination.

Some Republicans were excited for most of Tuesday evening as ballots cast on Election Day at Virginia’s nearly 2,500 polling places were tabulated and posted. President Donald Trump appeared to be beating Democrat Joe Biden in the reliably blue commonwealth, and it appeared that Republican novice Daniel Gade might unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a former governor and the dean of Virginia’s Democratic elected officeholders.

Then along came the 2.7 million in-person and mailed absentee ballots that Virginians had been casting for weeks. That’s when reality crashed down on the state’s GOP – some harder than others.

After The Associated Press called the race for Warner the instant polls closed – and before any actual votes were counted – Gade taunted Warner and the AP, citing State Department of Elections returns that showed him ahead by 250,000 votes with 42 percent of precincts reporting.

“I got something for you, AP. You better walk it back,” he told an Election Night coterie of supporters. “Just like all of us conceded nothing during this entire race, I concede nothing. I’m coming for you, Mark Warner!”

AP’s call proved correct after the early and absentee votes were posted. Warner cruised to an 11 percentage-point victory and a third term in the Senate, and a chastened Gade tweeted a more graceful concession Wednesday morning.

Aside from his rookie mistake of sounding off with so little of the total vote counted, Gade’s frustration is relatable. Getting unofficial returns in conflicting, consecutive dumps is foreign to our experience of a sure and quick tally of the Election Day vote followed by a smattering of absentees that were rarely significant. This year, those early and absentee ballots were the tail that wagged the dog. The bifurcated process confused and vexed those who aren’t news nerds or politics junkies. Even some network pundits and cable news talking heads were flummoxed, voicing alarm nationally that Trump was blowing Biden’s doors off in a state where no Republican has won a statewide election in 11 years.

Chris Piper, Virginia’s election commissioner, says there’s got to be a better way.

“Election Day votes were tallied first. So those votes that came in before Election Day were a big dump later on in the evening, and it significantly changed things,” Piper said. “The question is how can we get those early votes in more quickly.”

For a few hours, it created a misleading impression because of the disparate ways and times Democrats and Republicans cast their ballots.

“I think one party’s voters chose to vote mostly early, and another party’s voters chose to vote mostly in person on Election Day, and it’s hard to balance the reporting of both of those at the same time,” Piper said.

The dismay created by AP’s and other news organizations’ early race calls for Democrats who appeared hopelessly behind in the Department of Elections’ online count found its way to Piper’s office Tuesday night, even though neither he nor his department has any role in proclaiming winners. That rests solely with the media.

“We got a lot of questions during the evening: ‘How can you call it for Warner when he’s down by 500,000 votes,’” Piper said. “It’s hard answering that question.”

An election official collects a ballot from a drive-up voter at the Fluvanna Community Center in Fluvanna County, Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

While the counting and reporting process created consternation, Virginia executed its election very well compared to many other states. Some of the credit goes to the state’s seasoned election administrators and the time they had to work the bugs out. Much of it goes to a raft of new election reforms that took effect this year, many of them enacted last winter by a General Assembly in its first year of Democratic control.

New laws rolled back decades of Republican restrictions and liberalized absentee and early in-person voting. They eliminated the requirement to cite a reason for voting absentee rather than on Election Day and the requirement that voters present government-issued photo identification at polling places. To encourage home-sheltered voting in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers provided funding to have stamped, self-addressed envelopes for voters to use in returning their completed ballots. And, starting this year, Virginians had the option of casting ballots in-person up to 45 days before the election at local registrars’ offices and designated local satellite voting facilities.

In some large localities, lines stretching the length of several football fields were not uncommon as the election drew nigh, but most reports showed queues moving briskly. Piper says that was because registrars had time to adapt their processes and improve efficiency.

Perhaps the most important advantage, in hindsight, has been around for a while: the leeway Virginia law gives its registrars to process and count absentee ballots before the election.

By Wednesday morning, Virginia’s preliminary tally was over and the state avoided the pressure-cooker spectacle that consumed election officials in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and neighboring North Carolina. Those battlegrounds had denied their local election officials the ability to get a jump on absentee counting. So, with a razor-thin margin and the presidency hanging in the balance as the whole world watched, those states began the laborious, meticulous, round-the-clock ordeal of counting absentee ballots on Tuesday. They were still at it Friday, with some eyeing another week of work.

Forty-eight hours after polls closed in Nevada, its six electoral votes remained in long-term limbo as Biden nursed a slim lead over Trump in a deliberately unhurried process in which the state’s administrators shrugged off appeals for urgency. Mail-in ballots postmarked on or before Nov. 3 can be received through tomorrow, and it could be the end of this week before complete totals are available, a Nevada election official said Thursday.

That’s not to say that Virginia’s election process is free of warts. The registrar’s sloppy handling of some absentee ballots in Henrico County raised legitimate questions about Democratic U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s paper-thin lead over her GOP challenger, Del. Nick Freitas, based on complete but unofficial returns in the 7th Congressional District race.

“We’re all going to sit down and look at the election and how it went,” Piper said. “There were a lot of different things we did this year that we hadn’t done in the past. Overall, I am going to credit the registrars for the hard work that they did to implement these things. But, certainly, there are ways we can get better at it and we’ll continue to work on that.”

And be glad, perhaps, that we’re not Nevada.

 

Slow counting of down ballots

Source: Virginia Mercury

After Biden and Warner win Virginia, slow counting delays results in down ballot contests

Graham Moomaw – November 4, 2020

An election official wipes down a table after every voter in Buckingham County, Nov. 3, 2020. (Parker Michels-Boyce / For the Virginia Mercury)

Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner were quickly declared victors Tuesday in Virginia, but the task of counting an extraordinary amount of absentee ballots left several other contests unresolved early Wednesday morning.

Minutes after the polls closed at 7 p.m., the Associated Press said Warner had defeated Republican challenger Daniel Gade. The AP later called the presidential contest for Biden, giving him Virginia’s 13 Electoral College votes if unofficial results hold.

But several competitive congressional races were uncalled as Tuesday turned to Wednesday, with results watchers waiting for local election officials to report their early voting numbers.

The 2.7 million votes cast by mail or in person prior to Election Day muddled the results that appeared Tuesday evening, showing Republican candidates with strong leads in a state predicted to stay solidly Democratic.

Biden pulled ahead of Trump in Virginia shortly after midnight, as more votes from heavily Democratic areas, including populous Fairfax County, started to come in.

Similarly confusing situations played out in some of the congressional races considered most competitive, with the AP unable to call the contests.

Republican House candidate Nick Freitas, a GOP state delegate from Culpeper, greets voters outside a Henrico County polling place on Election Day. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In two of those races, first-term Democratic Reps. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico and Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, were trying to hold off challenges from Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, and former Congressman Scott Taylor, respectively.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, greets voters at a polling place in Henrico County on Election Day. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In the third, Democrat Cameron Webb conceded defeat to GOP candidate Bob Good, who beat incumbent Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, in a primary this summer.

It wasn’t clear when the outcomes of the other races might be known, but officials will still be counting some late-arriving ballots that come in before noon Friday. Final numbers likely won’t be available until then.

Former Campbell County Supervisor Bob Good, a Republican, defeated Democrat Cameron Webb for Virginia’s 5th congressional district seat Tuesday. (Good campaign)

First-term Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, also defeated Republican challenger Aliscia Andrews, according to the AP, and other congressional incumbents appeared headed to re-election with no surprises.

In a hotly contested ballot referendum, voters appeared to signal broad approval for a constructional amendment to largely strip the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts. The amendment would create a 16-member, bipartisan commission that would redraw the state’s political maps starting with the 2021 redistricting process. Early results showed about 66 percent of voters supporting the amendment, with about 3/4 of the expected vote counted.

Voters in four cities also approved local referendums allowing casinos to be built in Bristol, Portsmouth, Danville and Norfolk, giving final approval to a casino legalization push years in the making.

Officials said Election Day went smoothly, with few reported problems.

As voters across the state cast their ballots, several said they were feeling uncertain about what might follow a uniquely important election.

Vonda Wharam, a 54-year-old teacher from Buckingham County, declined to say how she voted but said she’s never felt so uneasy about a presidential contest.

“If Trump wins it’s gonna be a riot. If Biden wins they’re gonna fuss about if the election was valid and true,” Wharam said. “That worries me.”

Jason Conway, a 24-year-old Buckingham voter studying for a job working on power lines, agreed, said he voted for Biden and Webb but was motivated mainly by wanting to get rid of Trump.

“I see the Republican party pushing this line of love your country and God and whatever whatever,” Conway said outside the polling place set up at the Buckingham County Volunteer Rescue Squad building. “I think it’s more of an emotion-based reaction versus trying to actually get equality for everyone.”

In Southwest Virginia, Franklin County resident Steve Thompson said he voted “straight Republican.”

“The Democrats are scaring me,” Thompson said. “I think they’re just too radical. They’re going to end up trying to take too many of our rights away from us, or attempt to.”

Marlene St. Clair of Ferrum said she voted for Good in the 5th District race, largely because of his alignment with Trump. “I think he’ll follow through with the things that Trump wants to do,” she said. “He won’t stand in the way of it.”

In Virginia Beach, voters were deciding a rematch between Taylor and Luria, who ran against each other before in 2018.

Former Republican Congressman Scott Taylor campaigns Tuesday outside a polling place in Virginia Beach in an attempt to take back his old seat from Democratic U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk. “Win or lose, I’m going to a beach somewhere” for a little while, he said. (Roger Chesley/ For the Virginia Mercury)

Janise Jenkins, a 39-year-old property manager, said she felt Luria was the better pick for military families.

“I didn’t like the controversy over Scott,” she said, referring to the investigation into the 2018 Taylor campaign’s efforts to get a third-party candidate on the ballot. Two former Taylor campaign staffers pleaded guilty to election fraud charges after evidence emerged showing some of the petition signatures were forged. Taylor has insisted he wasn’t involved.

Shawn Williams, a 31-year-old truck driver, said he voted for Taylor after supporting Luria in 2018.

“The Democrats are pushing me away,” he said.

Taylor himself was working the crowd at Aragona Precinct, one of Virginia Beach’s largest polling places. Asked what he’d do if he lost, Taylor said: “Win or lose, I’m going to a beach somewhere.”

Vicki Farrell, 65, had a sign in the back of her car at the Aragon Precinct in Virginia Beach urging calm following the election. “I’m worried about the report I’m hearing on protests. Antifa doesn’t care.” She said she’ll live and deal with whoever wins the presidential contest. (Roger Chesley/ For the Virginia Mercury)

At the same polling place, Vicki Farrell, 65, felt so strongly about the prospect of post-election unrest she put a sign in her car window with a plea to any voter who saw it.

It said: “Whoever wins stay calm. ‘We are not enemies but friends.’ – Abraham Lincoln”

X
Skip to toolbar