State Support to Vote Safely and Adding Juneteenth as a State Holiday
August 24, 2020
August 24, 2020
August 19, 2020
By Kathy Burcher, VEA Director of Government Relations and Research
Today the General Assembly money committees took up bills to specify how Virginia will handle absentee ballots this Election Day. As you may know, during the regular session the General Assembly passed no-excuse absentee voting. That law became effective July 1 and, because of the health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, Virginia is preparing for a very large increase in the numbers of people that request an absentee ballot for the General Election on November 3. This issue is making national news, and there has been much dialog about the safety of mail-in ballots.
Today the money committees took steps to protect both voters and our democratic process. SB5120 from Senator Howell and the identical HB5103 from Delegate Sickles passed on party-line votes—all Democrats voted yes; all Republicans voted no. These bills lay out commonsense steps that the VEA supported to make absentee voting as easy and safe as possible.
The bills clarify how ballots will be certified by each general registrar, including how a voter will be notified if there are any issues with their ballot. The bills also allow voters to make corrections to errors on their ballot and to omit the witness signature on their ballot without penalty of the ballot being invalidated. The bills also require the placement of ballot drop-off locations at the general registrar office and each voter satellite office. On the day of the election, there shall also be an accessible drop-off location at each polling place in operation for the election. All drop-off locations shall include necessary security requirements. Additionally, the bills set aside $2 million for pre-paid return envelopes for all absentee ballots. This is another important measure that the VEA supports. We believe that all citizens should be able to vote easily, even when there is a public health crisis. We supported efforts to expand access to absentee ballots during the regular session and we are happy to see these bills move forward.
In another important move, HB5052 from Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, unanimously reported from the Committee on General Laws. This bill codifies the Executive Order signed by Governor Northam to make Juneteenth a State Holiday. During testimony on the bill, Delegate Marcia Price urged anyone who cannot knowledgeably explain why Juneteenth should be a state holiday, to learn about it. As someone who went to Virginia public schools for all but 1 year of my K-12 education, I was never taught about Juneteenth. There is no better example of the whitewashing of our history then that. When you know better, you do better. I encourage all of you to listen to Delegate Price and do better. If you don’t know about Juneteenth, please learn about it here.