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Proposed Rules Would Harm Democracy in Virginia, Say Voting Rights Advocates Print E-mail
Press Statement from League of Women Voters of Virginia and Project Vote

January 28, 2013

RICHMOND, VA -- Introduced earlier this month, Virginia House Bill 1747/Senate Bill 1008 could severely undermine the right of Virginia’s citizens to vote.
 
In the past few years, there has been a nationwide trend to disenfranchise Americans and reduce participation at the polls; this bill is the latest in that trend. Voting is a fundamental right. Greater participation by voters should be Virginia’s goal – not making registration and voting more difficult and less available.
 
The new legislation imposes severe new restrictions on individuals and organizations working to help Virginians register to vote. Operating voter registration drives is a constitutionally protected right that courts have called a “core First Amendment activity.” Yet churches, schools, and community groups obtaining materials from election officials will be subjected to training and paperwork burdens that will make this activity considerably more difficult. Most dangerously, this legislation gives the State Board of Elections total discretion to set the rules for all of these procedural requirements once they are enacted; this means, in essence, that legislators don’t even know what they’re voting for.
 
These new restrictions on voter registration groups will have very real consequences for many Virginians, particularly low-income and minority voters who rely on voter registration drives to register or update their registration information. The U.S. Census reports that voters from communities of color register through these drives at a rate twice that of white voters. Burdening voter registration drives directly reduces registration and voting among these communities. 
 
It is worth noting that several provisions of a similar law passed in Florida in 2011 were struck down as noncompliant with federal law.
 
Under the proposed law: 
  • Any individual or group picking up 25 or more voter registration applications from an election office must register with the state and complete additional paperwork;
  • Those individuals or groups are required to receive training approved by the State Board of Elections, although the location, frequency, and manner of the training are not specified;
  • Voter registration drives must adhere to a 10-day deadline (a reduction from the reasonable and workable 15-day deadline in current law) for the submission of registration applications after they are signed, a requirement that places a severe burden on groups conducting large-scale drives, especially groups whose procedures include quality control measures.
We urge Virginia’s legislators to reject this vague and regressive law and to focus instead on making voting more accessible for all eligible Virginians. Our democracy works best when every eligible American votes. 
 
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The League of Women Voters of Virginia, a nonpartisan political organization of men and women, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
 
Project Vote is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)(3) that works to empower, educate, and mobilize low-income, minority, youth, and other marginalized and under-represented voters.
 

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