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Voting During Pandemic: Groups Urge VA Lawmakers to Move Election Date

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Groups want to move local elections in Virginia from May 5 to Nov. 3. (Adobe stock)
Groups want to move local elections in Virginia from May 5 to Nov. 3. (Adobe stock)
April 21, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- Concern over public gatherings during the coronavirus crisis has spurred voting-rights groups to press Virginia's General Assembly to move the date of local elections from May to November.

The Legislature is set to reconvene Wednesday and will vote on Gov. Ralph Northam's recommendation to consolidate all upcoming elections on November 3.

Claiming that people should not have to choose between their health and their right to vote, Jeanne Hanewich, founder of Change the Date Chesapeake, said she doesn't want a repeat of social-distancing violations seen during the recent Wisconsin election.

"We should be focusing on public safety, not having people gather to vote," Hanewich said. "And we've all seen the disturbing images of Wisconsin, of people in long lines with masks on. And the reality is a lot of our poll workers are older, and it's putting them at risk too."

She said more than 100 Virginia cities and towns, including Hampton, Chesapeake and Norfolk, are set to vote in races for mayor, city council and school board positions on May 5.

Hanewich said another reason to move the election is because voters can't make informed decisions since candidate forums and community events have all been canceled during the pandemic. In addition, she pointed out that elections tend to favor incumbents when there is low voter turnout.

"The incumbents are the ones that are going to benefit from keeping elections at a time when there's low turnout," she said. "Like our mayor, he does roundtable videos. It's like, he can do that because he's already our mayor. But the other candidates don't have any vehicle to do anything like that."

Meanwhile, the ACLU is suing Virginia to get the Commonwealth to cancel the witness-signature requirement for mail-in absentee ballots during the coronavirus crisis.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA