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Voter Advocacy in Virginia

By Mike Signer | August 13, 2012 | No Comments

Virginia holds an extraordinary place in the history of democracy.  We gave the world some of history’s most powerful ideas about how people could truly be free, and we watch today as those ideas reverberate around the globe.  Here at home, we have seen a battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light.  The same Commonwealth that could elect Doug Wilder governor was also the home of Massive Resistance.  The same Commonwealth that saw Governor Linwood Holton fight to end segregation also was home to the Byrd Machine.

I’m an optimist.  As Barack Obama frequently says, citing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.  Today, we’re faced with another choice of how to bend that arc, and the time-tested Democratic cause of “voter protection” is needed this fall more than ever.

I’ve been helping to direct voter protection programs in Virginia since 2001 on Mark Warner’s gubernatorial campaign.  That year, we were the first state to have elections since the 2000 debacle in Florida, and a team of Democratic lawyers set out to make sure nothing like that could happen in Virginia.  Ever since, we’ve fielded hundreds of lawyers and legal volunteers to polls, trained them in election law, and make sure they’re on hand to counsel voters, resolve problems, and constructively work with election officials.

The same Commonwealth that elected Barack Obama president in 2008 with a surge of young and underrepresented voters to the polls has seen, in the intervening years, a number of manipulative, cynical, and wholly unnecessary laws whose clear intent is to tilt a close election to the Republican column.

Now, unless the Department of Justice acts soon to block this new law, voters will need to bring one of a number of forms of identification to vote.  If they do not have one of these IDs, they will be forced to vote by provisional ballot.  When the “canvass” begins the next day (the process by which the raw total counted  on election night becomes official), Republicans also passed a new law requiring that only registered voters in a locality could be present to observe the counting of provisional ballots.

Taken together, it looks uncomfortably like a new process designed to give an edge if the margin is very close — as, indeed, it has been in recent years, whether for Jim Webb or Tom Perriello (I was on the recount teams for both and remember well the long nights of uncertainty and stress.)

This is why OFA has created a “Voter Advocacy” program for Virginia this year.  I was recently named Voter Protection Advisor to OFA Virginia and have appeared in Hampton, Virginia Beach, Arlington, and Manassas to recruit many new volunteers to this critical effort.  If playing a part in advocating for voters’ rights appeals to you, please sign up at the Obama campaign’s new online platform.

Helping voters and election officials on Election Day is a great way to serve a great cause — and to stand up for Virginia’s extraordinary democratic legacy to the world.

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