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  • Terry Austin

Update on Voting Laws

Virginia has been under a State of Emergency since March 12th. As a Commonwealth, we have had to adapt to unprecedented circumstances, and our small businesses and frontline workers have proven that it is possible to do so in a safe and effective manner. As Labor Day weekend ends, election season begins.

The General Assembly has had six months to consider, plan and implement changes necessary to hold fair and accessible elections in November. Waiting until the end of August to hold a Special Session meant to address Virginia’s budget shortfall is a disservice to voters. Rather than promote open dialogue with the very people charged with ensuring free and fair elections, the majority passed a vague law that stresses the already strained resources of our Registrars and places the financial burden of implementation onto localities.

This law requires Registrars to provide pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots, place a drop-off box at every precinct voting location, review each ballot, and notify a voter within three days if a ballot is deemed “void”. Interestingly, this new law also dictates that an absentee ballot without a witness signature does not render the ballot void.

Drastic changes such as these should be implemented far sooner in the election process than the sixty days given to Registrars throughout Virginia. Furthermore, the law requires each locality to follow standards set forth by the Department of Elections. What makes this situation unique is that, as of now, these standards have yet to be communicated, and they do not have to be until 30 days after the law took effect on September 4th.

Put simply, Registrars could have a little over a month to implement new regulations for which they have been unable to properly plan for and in which their resources are already stretched thin. This is not a recipe for success and will most likely sow confusion on Election Day and long after.

Unfortunately, this is not the only area of disagreement that my fellow Republicans have with our colleagues across the aisle. The lack of communication with stakeholders is indicative of the current majority’s method of governing. The crop of bills that have recently passed through the House of Delegates will weaken law enforcement’s ability to keep our communities safe. Everyone is in agreement that certain changes can and should be made to ease the burden we as society have placed on our law enforcement officers. Too often we have expected them to manage mental health and drug abuse issues in addition to their standard duties within our communities. Removing their protections and limiting their resources is not the answer.

Though the Virginia General Assembly is not up for election this year, the current legislation being passed by the majority is the same platform being pushed at a federal level. Free and fair elections are essential to our democracy. Removing uncertainty strengthens the veracity of the results; sowing confusion achieves the opposite. Enabling law enforcement keeps our communities safe; weakening their ability to serve does not. The choice is clear.

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