Public Comments for 02/16/2021 Privileges and Elections - Election Administration Subcommittee
SB1097 - Absentee voting; witness signature not required.
Last Name: Howard Organization: Virgina Beach Tea Party Locality: Virginia Beach

ELECTION INTEGRITY: IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUE SB 1097 repeals the requirement for witness signatures when absentee ballots are opened and recorded this is a gateway to voter fraud. VOTE NO on SB 1097.

Last Name: Rivers Organization: self Locality: Henrico

I strongly support passge of SB1097 to eliminate the requirement of witness signature for absentee voting. This requirement is unnecessary (we have other anti-fraud measures already in place) and only serves to suppress votes by people who have physical or other barriers to in-person voting. We have to do all we can to wipe away the insidious efforts to prevent people from voting. Period.

Last Name: Ebel-Nuwayser Locality: Alexandria, Fairfax County

Please pass SB 1097. I volunteer with an organization that helps people vote for the first time. Many live in shelters, have just received housing or are still living on the street. They already face many challenges to access the polls including being unable to get themselves there in person and either having no permanent address or having recently moved. These folks do not have family connections, friends or even casual contacts. Finding a witness to sign a form to submit a vote by mail is an undue impediment to their right to vote. Finding a witness to sign an absentee ballot makes voting by mail harder for the more than a quarter of Virginia voters who live alone — including the elderly, minority group members, people with disabilities, rural residents, and low-income voters. It also disproportionately affects Black voters, who are more likely to live alone. There are already numerous protections in place to assure the security and integrity of absentee voting. Such as: *social security number and address when registering to vote *submitting personally identifying information to receive a ballot *unique bar codes on return envelopes *ballots recorded when received Witness signatures were not required due to Covid and there was no rash of voter fraud that accompanied the suspension of that requirement. There is no reason to require them for any election.

Last Name: Whitlock Locality: Louisa

I oppose SB1097, SB1239, SB1245, and SB1246 because I believe they go in the wrong direction. They may sound great, but they only promote further separation from an individual's civil responsibilities during an election and adds responsibilities and costs to the localities, general registrar, and local election officials. Re: SB1097 particularly, I can understand how requiring a witness could be prohibitive in some situations. However, I am curious: why was it required in the first place? Does that mean that reason no longer exists? To remove a standard of voting integrity for political reasons only would be wrong. These proposals rely heavily on the postal system. I don't think I even need to explain all of the reasons why that is flawed. And so many proposed variations in deadlines: hours, days, and even weeks are changed. These "improvements" could easily lead to questionable verification, voting, and counting, as well as another election process that goes on for months. Moreover, the General Assembly already significantly changed election law last year: for example, eliminating ID/verification in some cases and expanding the list of acceptable voter ID in others; allowing more time for ballots to arrive, be "corrected!," and be counted; allowing same-day voter registration, and automatically sending applications to all people on an annual absentee voter list. Why focus on absentee ballots now? These bills are unwieldy, dilute the integrity of our election process, and reflect current politics rather than secure elections for posterity. Finally, I see more and more people mentioning "our democracy." The United States of America was founded as a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Perhaps, that's where the opposing views start.

Last Name: Kanter Cohen Organization: Fair Elections Center Locality: Montgomery Co, MD

Fair Elections Center supports SB 1097 because this bill would make absentee voting more accessible and make it easier for voters to cast a ballot that counts. Fair Elections Center is a national, nonpartisan voting rights and election reform organization which works to remove barriers to registration and voting for traditionally underrepresented constituencies. Formed in 2017 to continue the work of the Fair Elections Legal Network, the Center works to improve election administration through legislative, legal and administrative reform, to protect access to the ballot through litigation, and to provide election law expertise, voter information and technical assistance to voter mobilization organizations. In 2020, among other work, Fair Elections Center brought litigation in a number of states to protect the right to vote by mail in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. SB 1097 would remove the requirement to include a witness signature with the voted absentee ballot. The witness requirement is a barrier to voting and is unnecessary because absentee voting is secured in multiple, more effective ways. For example, Virginians supply personal identification information when registering to vote and when identifying themselves to vote absentee. The requirement is harmful to the many Virginians with disabilities, many of whom have significant mobility impairments. For that reason, it is difficult for many qualified voters to locate and coordinate a witness. Particularly at a time when many at-risk voters are continuing to self-isolate due to the pandemic, the witness requirement poses an unnecessary risk to both health and voting rights without any added benefit. Fair Elections Center urges you to move this bill forward. If you have any questions or need further information, please contact Michelle Kanter Cohen, Senior Counsel, Fair Elections Center, (202) 331-0114, mkantercohen@fairelectionscenter.org.

Last Name: Johnson Locality: Chesterfield

Witnessing an absentee ballot is very difficult for many and any impediment such as this only hurts the elderly and those who cannot get access to someone to witness.

Last Name: DeRosa Organization: League of Women Voters - VA Locality: Arlington

We need to make the no-witness-requirement permanent. Voters should be able to vote safely and securely at home without having to search for a witness who will watch the voters mark their ballots. Please pass SB1097. Full voter access!

Last Name: Clewett Organization: Lewinsville Faith in Action Locality: Fairfax County

Please support SB1097. To strengthen our democracy, and ensure the fairness of our elections, we must do everything we can to make voting available to all qualified voters. Eliminating a burdensome and unnecessary witness signature requirement will further that goal. • More than a quarter of eligible Virginia voters live alone – especially those who are poor, elderly, disabled, minority, or rural – and a witness requirement makes it significantly harder, if not impossible, for them to vote by absentee ballot. And yet that may be their only practical option, since many of them have no reliable access to transportation. • We already have thorough safeguards against abuse of the absentee voting process, as Ms. Wake of the League of Women Voters has explained. A witness requirement does not improve ballot security; it only disenfranchises vulnerable voters. • All those who support American democracy should work to make voting easier and more universal. Eliminating unnecessary burdens is a step in the right direction. Please vote YEA on SB1097. Thank you.

Last Name: Wake Organization: League of Women Voters of Virginia Locality: Fairfax County

Good morning Chairperson Van Valkenburg and members of the committee. I'm Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. Thank you for the opportunity to speak in favor of SB1097 to remove the barrier of requiring a witness for an absentee ballot. In order to request an absentee ballot, a voter must do several things to prove their identity: provide their name, birthdate, social security number, and locality. The applicant, whether online or on paper, must acknowledge that they are who they say are, under penalty of law. The ballot then arrives at the address where the voter had registered to vote--which is a separate process--and another means for the Department of Elections to confirm the voter is who they represent themself to be. When the voter signs Envelope B for returning their ballot, they testify by signing that they do so under penalty of law. The penalty--for both the application and the return of the ballot--is a class 5 felony punishable by 1-10 years in prison. The witness requirement is nothing more than a barrier to a qualified voter. The witness signature can be a stray mark--it is not confirmed in any way. However, for more than a quarter of Virginians age 18 and older who live alone--including the elderly, minorities, those with disabilities, those in rural communities or those with a lower income—finding a witness can be an especially difficult barrier. My daughter recently told me that it was difficult finding a roommate home or other person to witness her ballot when away at college. This discourages voting. During a pandemic, the witness requirement also constitutes a health risk. So you see, many safeguards exist to confirm a voter's identity. The witness requirement is unnecessary, irrelevant and does nothing more than suppress voting. Please support SB1097 to remove this impediment. Thank you

Last Name: Miller Organization: disAbility Law Center of Virginia Locality: Richmond

the disAbility Law Center of Virginia supports this legislation. As many polling places are not fully accessible to people with disabilities, some have no choice but to vote by mail. The requirement to find a witness to that ballot can act as a barrier to voting for people with disabilities who live independently.

Last Name: Caywood Organization: none Locality: Virginia Beach

Please support SB1097 to remove the witness signature requirement from absentee ballots. For people who live alone and are in COVID high risk categories, this can be a serious barrier to voting. For example, I have a friend who lives alone and is recovering from cancer surgery. She is in the tiny sliver of Virginia Beach that is in HD90 and because the waiving of the signature requirement was only for the November election, the requirement was back in force when the special election was held Jan. 5th. Moreover, the signature proves nothing - the witness doesn't have to know the voter or see ID to prove that the person voting is the one to whom the ballot was mailed. All the requirement does is keep people from voting or force them to take extra risks to vote. The process of applying for an absentee ballot has plenty of built in security, to which the witness adds nothing.

Last Name: Barker Organization: N/A Locality: Chesapeake

Re: SB1097, witness signatures have on real purpose other than as a means of disqualifying ballots. They should be eliminated. Re: SB1157, moving Municipal elections to November would greatly increase turnout. that is always a benefit to the proper exercise of democracy. The election date should be moved. Re: SB1245, Absentee balloting is being done successfully throughout the nation. It should be no excuse, with easy ability to drop off a ballot before or on Election Day.

Last Name: Wolff Locality: Hampton

You must OPPOSE this bill. This proposed action will only further degrade voting rights and election integrity in Virginia.

Last Name: McKiernan Organization: Virginia Election Administrators Locality: Rappahannock

During the course of your duties, when considering our (Election Administrators/General Registrars/Directors of Elections) request to finally be paid commensurate with our duties after 29 years of added duties without corresponding compensation, please keep in mind that every election law that is passed adds to our duties. There were over 69 NEW Election laws last year in the midst of a pandemic and the most grueling, contentious election cycle EVER. Every election law passed without funding jeopardizes our ability to get it all done due to lack of resources, staff, funding and time. The loss of any of the experienced, dedicated General Registrars because of compensation is a travesty and is likely to become a reality without the appropriate compensation. Please correct this inequity in compensation THIS SESSION. 1. Adjust compensation brackets in accordance with state studies (2 of them) 2. resume 100% reimbursement of NEW base salary to localities 3. Make it happen THIS session. We have earned it. We are the ones out here taking the abuse as a result of unfounded accusations and insinuations. Please understand that the 133 General Registrars statewide who count votes, compile results, verify results, process absentee by mail ballots, and so much more, do so with bi-partisan observers (sent by local political committees!!) and sworn election officials every.single.step! NOTHING is done in secret. EVERYTHING is reviewed and verified by a three member board (Electoral Board) representing both political parties. These board members are nominated by the local political committees and signed off on by a panel of judges! WE are not the enemy and the more you present laws insinuating that something is shady, the more you erode voter confidence on both sides of the aisle! The fact that a bill has passed the house to ADD SUNDAYS to early voting should be enough reason to pay us appropriately itself. We work 100s and 1000s of hours of overtime yet aren't paid equally and aren't valued equally to our fellow county government counterparts. The longer you ignore this and pass over doing the right thing, the more you send the message to your constituents, candidates, and fellow delegates that elections aren't important to you. NOW is the time to make this right.

SB1153 - Absentee voting; ballots to be sorted and results to be reported by precinct.
Last Name: Boyle Organization: Virginia Association of Counties Locality: Richmond, VA 23219

VACo would request that this legislation not move forward without an accompanying appropriation of funds to assist localities in purchasing the equipment that would be needed to implement this requirement in a manner that would minimize potential errors and voter confusion. It is our understanding that this requirement would necessitate precinct-specific ballots for all elections, which for localities with more than a few precincts would likely require the purchase of “print-on-demand” machines to generate the correct precinct-specific ballot for each voter, or a very challenging process involving extensive printing of different ballot styles and careful tracking to ensure the correct ballot is given to each voter. Given current budget uncertainties, localities would be challenged to comply. We would recommend that the state assist localities with the resources needed to comply should it proceed with this requirement. Thank you for your consideration.

SB1239 - Absentee voting; third-party absentee ballot assembly and distribution.
Last Name: Whitlock Locality: Louisa

I oppose SB1097, SB1239, SB1245, and SB1246 because I believe they go in the wrong direction. They may sound great, but they only promote further separation from an individual's civil responsibilities during an election and adds responsibilities and costs to the localities, general registrar, and local election officials. Re: SB1097 particularly, I can understand how requiring a witness could be prohibitive in some situations. However, I am curious: why was it required in the first place? Does that mean that reason no longer exists? To remove a standard of voting integrity for political reasons only would be wrong. These proposals rely heavily on the postal system. I don't think I even need to explain all of the reasons why that is flawed. And so many proposed variations in deadlines: hours, days, and even weeks are changed. These "improvements" could easily lead to questionable verification, voting, and counting, as well as another election process that goes on for months. Moreover, the General Assembly already significantly changed election law last year: for example, eliminating ID/verification in some cases and expanding the list of acceptable voter ID in others; allowing more time for ballots to arrive, be "corrected!," and be counted; allowing same-day voter registration, and automatically sending applications to all people on an annual absentee voter list. Why focus on absentee ballots now? These bills are unwieldy, dilute the integrity of our election process, and reflect current politics rather than secure elections for posterity. Finally, I see more and more people mentioning "our democracy." The United States of America was founded as a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Perhaps, that's where the opposing views start.

Last Name: McKiernan Organization: Virginia Election Administrators Locality: Rappahannock

During the course of your duties, when considering our (Election Administrators/General Registrars/Directors of Elections) request to finally be paid commensurate with our duties after 29 years of added duties without corresponding compensation, please keep in mind that every election law that is passed adds to our duties. There were over 69 NEW Election laws last year in the midst of a pandemic and the most grueling, contentious election cycle EVER. Every election law passed without funding jeopardizes our ability to get it all done due to lack of resources, staff, funding and time. The loss of any of the experienced, dedicated General Registrars because of compensation is a travesty and is likely to become a reality without the appropriate compensation. Please correct this inequity in compensation THIS SESSION. 1. Adjust compensation brackets in accordance with state studies (2 of them) 2. resume 100% reimbursement of NEW base salary to localities 3. Make it happen THIS session. We have earned it. We are the ones out here taking the abuse as a result of unfounded accusations and insinuations. Please understand that the 133 General Registrars statewide who count votes, compile results, verify results, process absentee by mail ballots, and so much more, do so with bi-partisan observers (sent by local political committees!!) and sworn election officials every.single.step! NOTHING is done in secret. EVERYTHING is reviewed and verified by a three member board (Electoral Board) representing both political parties. These board members are nominated by the local political committees and signed off on by a panel of judges! WE are not the enemy and the more you present laws insinuating that something is shady, the more you erode voter confidence on both sides of the aisle! The fact that a bill has passed the house to ADD SUNDAYS to early voting should be enough reason to pay us appropriately itself. We work 100s and 1000s of hours of overtime yet aren't paid equally and aren't valued equally to our fellow county government counterparts. The longer you ignore this and pass over doing the right thing, the more you send the message to your constituents, candidates, and fellow delegates that elections aren't important to you. NOW is the time to make this right.

SB1245 - Absentee voting; establishment of drop-off locations preprocessing returned absentee ballots.
Last Name: Gerchick Organization: League of Women Voters of Virginia Locality: Delaplane

SB 1245 and 1246: The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports making permanent the temporary provisions for drop-off locations and ballot curing that effectively enhanced early and mail voting last year. Dropping off a ballot makes voting possible, not just convenient, for voters who cannot wait in long lines for work or personal reasons. Drop boxes are "secure and convenient, according to a CISA workgroup. Letting voters correct minor procedural errors will help them ensure their ballot is counted. During the 2020 general election, hundreds of qualified voters we able to "cure" their ballots successfully. SB 1246: Pre-processing and processing absentee ballots so that machine tallies are set to go when the polls close will expedite election results. This bill would also preserve the secrecy of the ballots and the anonymity of the voters. Almost every locality in Virginia already has a Central Absentee Precinct (CAP). CAPs are the most efficient way to process absentee ballots. Counting those ballots quickly will reassure the public that reported results of elections are accurate.

Last Name: Whitlock Locality: Louisa

I oppose SB1097, SB1239, SB1245, and SB1246 because I believe they go in the wrong direction. They may sound great, but they only promote further separation from an individual's civil responsibilities during an election and adds responsibilities and costs to the localities, general registrar, and local election officials. Re: SB1097 particularly, I can understand how requiring a witness could be prohibitive in some situations. However, I am curious: why was it required in the first place? Does that mean that reason no longer exists? To remove a standard of voting integrity for political reasons only would be wrong. These proposals rely heavily on the postal system. I don't think I even need to explain all of the reasons why that is flawed. And so many proposed variations in deadlines: hours, days, and even weeks are changed. These "improvements" could easily lead to questionable verification, voting, and counting, as well as another election process that goes on for months. Moreover, the General Assembly already significantly changed election law last year: for example, eliminating ID/verification in some cases and expanding the list of acceptable voter ID in others; allowing more time for ballots to arrive, be "corrected!," and be counted; allowing same-day voter registration, and automatically sending applications to all people on an annual absentee voter list. Why focus on absentee ballots now? These bills are unwieldy, dilute the integrity of our election process, and reflect current politics rather than secure elections for posterity. Finally, I see more and more people mentioning "our democracy." The United States of America was founded as a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Perhaps, that's where the opposing views start.

Last Name: Barker Organization: N/A Locality: Chesapeake

Re: SB1097, witness signatures have on real purpose other than as a means of disqualifying ballots. They should be eliminated. Re: SB1157, moving Municipal elections to November would greatly increase turnout. that is always a benefit to the proper exercise of democracy. The election date should be moved. Re: SB1245, Absentee balloting is being done successfully throughout the nation. It should be no excuse, with easy ability to drop off a ballot before or on Election Day.

Last Name: Schaffner Locality: Norfolk

SB1157: I support changing local elections to November to increase turnout and make local officials more responsive to their constituents. SB1245: Absentee voting should be encouraged and expanded. The cure process for any errors should be streamlined and highly accessible. SB1246: Absentee ballots should be processed as soon as practical.

SB1246 - Absentee voting; mandatory processing of returned absentee ballots before election day.
Last Name: Gerchick Organization: League of Women Voters of Virginia Locality: Delaplane

SB 1245 and 1246: The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports making permanent the temporary provisions for drop-off locations and ballot curing that effectively enhanced early and mail voting last year. Dropping off a ballot makes voting possible, not just convenient, for voters who cannot wait in long lines for work or personal reasons. Drop boxes are "secure and convenient, according to a CISA workgroup. Letting voters correct minor procedural errors will help them ensure their ballot is counted. During the 2020 general election, hundreds of qualified voters we able to "cure" their ballots successfully. SB 1246: Pre-processing and processing absentee ballots so that machine tallies are set to go when the polls close will expedite election results. This bill would also preserve the secrecy of the ballots and the anonymity of the voters. Almost every locality in Virginia already has a Central Absentee Precinct (CAP). CAPs are the most efficient way to process absentee ballots. Counting those ballots quickly will reassure the public that reported results of elections are accurate.

Last Name: Whitlock Locality: Louisa

I oppose SB1097, SB1239, SB1245, and SB1246 because I believe they go in the wrong direction. They may sound great, but they only promote further separation from an individual's civil responsibilities during an election and adds responsibilities and costs to the localities, general registrar, and local election officials. Re: SB1097 particularly, I can understand how requiring a witness could be prohibitive in some situations. However, I am curious: why was it required in the first place? Does that mean that reason no longer exists? To remove a standard of voting integrity for political reasons only would be wrong. These proposals rely heavily on the postal system. I don't think I even need to explain all of the reasons why that is flawed. And so many proposed variations in deadlines: hours, days, and even weeks are changed. These "improvements" could easily lead to questionable verification, voting, and counting, as well as another election process that goes on for months. Moreover, the General Assembly already significantly changed election law last year: for example, eliminating ID/verification in some cases and expanding the list of acceptable voter ID in others; allowing more time for ballots to arrive, be "corrected!," and be counted; allowing same-day voter registration, and automatically sending applications to all people on an annual absentee voter list. Why focus on absentee ballots now? These bills are unwieldy, dilute the integrity of our election process, and reflect current politics rather than secure elections for posterity. Finally, I see more and more people mentioning "our democracy." The United States of America was founded as a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Perhaps, that's where the opposing views start.

Last Name: Gerchick Organization: League of Women Voters of Virginia Locality: Delaplane

The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports SB 1246. Pre-processing and processing absentee ballots so that machine tallies are set to go when the polls close will expedite election results. This bill would also preserve the secrecy of the ballots and the anonymity of the voters. Requiring all localities to have a Central Absentee Precinct, or CAP, is the most efficient way to process absentee ballots. It is not a burden, as nearly every locality in Virginia already has a CAP. Efficient, secure handling of absentee ballots so that they can be counted quickly will reassure the public that the reported results of elections are accurate. We urge the Subcommittee to support SB 1246.

Last Name: Schaffner Locality: Norfolk

SB1157: I support changing local elections to November to increase turnout and make local officials more responsive to their constituents. SB1245: Absentee voting should be encouraged and expanded. The cure process for any errors should be streamlined and highly accessible. SB1246: Absentee ballots should be processed as soon as practical.

SB1331 - Absentee voting; accessibility for voters with a visual impairment or print disability.
Last Name: Gerchick Organization: League of Women Voters of Virginia Locality: Delaplane

The League of Women Voters of Virginia supports.

Last Name: Miller Organization: disAbility Law Center of Virginia Locality: Richmond

the disAbility Law Center of Virginia supports this bill. We thank Senator Reeves for helping to ensure that voters with vision and print disabilities have the same access to absentee ballots as all other voters,

Last Name: Caywood Organization: none Locality: Virginia Beach

When I managed a library for the blind, we used screen reader technology because people who lose their sight as adults rarely learn to use Braille fluently. I learned that voting is considered a matter of life and death by persons with disabilities. The Commonwealth has done a lot to make the voting process at the polls accessible, but until last year a blind person could not independently and secretly cast an absentee ballot. Last November, that changed. Now we need to make that change permanent. Please vote for SB1331 Absentee voting; accessibility for voters with a visual impairment or print disability.

End of Comments