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Virginia Voters Sue to Block Widespread Absentee Voting

May 26, 2020 by Tom Ramstack
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, with his wife Pam at his side, said at a news conference in the Executive Mansion on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, that he is not the person in the racist photo in the EVMS yearbook and he will not resign. (Steve Earley/Virginian Pilot/TNS)

A group of Virginia voters is suing their state over a plan for wider use of absentee ballots during the primary election next month as coronavirus restrictions continue.

Their lawsuit is one of more than a dozen pending nationwide that seek orders for more absentee ballots or are trying to block them.

The Virginia lawsuit argues that absentee ballots create a disincentive to vote, effectively blocking many residents from the election process.

Widespread use of absentee ballots “would be a logistical nightmare and increases the risk of disenfranchisement,” says the lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Virginia.

The lawsuit by six Northern Virginia residents was in response to an executive order from Governor Ralph Northam. It allows anyone to obtain an absentee ballot by claiming “illness or disability” on the application.

Normally state law requires a doctor’s excuse or a qualified witness to verify the illness or disability. Northam’s executive order waives the requirement.

Northam also postponed the primary election by two weeks to June 23 as state health officials try to manage the pandemic that has killed about 1,200 Virginians.

“Due to the sudden surge in absentee ballots that will result from the plan, many voters will be disenfranchised because requested ballots never arrive or arrive too late and filled-out ballots get lost or are delayed in the return process,” says the lawsuit.

Northam’s executive order throws Virginia into a dispute over voting by mail that has entangled a growing number of states.

President Donald Trump last week threatened to freeze federal aid to Nevada and Michigan over their plans for nearly universal use of absentee ballots. He said mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud.

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request by the conservative advocacy group True the Vote to halt Nevada’s arrangement. State election officials are preparing to send absentee ballots to all voters for their June 9 primary.

U.S. District Judge Miranda Du called True the Vote’s complaint about unavoidable voter fraud “speculative” and “without any factual basis.”

True the Vote also says absentee ballots favor Democrats who have tried for years to prevent strict photo ID requirements at polling places and the removal of inactive voters from registration rolls.

True the Vote is represented in Nevada by conservative attorney James Bopp Jr., who also represents the Virginia plaintiffs.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring argued in a brief filed in the case that coronavirus has elevated the absentee ballot issue beyond a voting rights case.

“And the stakes here are even higher than in a typical case because the challenged actions protect not only citizens’ right to vote, but also the health and safety of voters, poll workers, election officials and others who would otherwise be at risk from a highly contagious virus,” the brief says.

He won support from the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.

“Plaintiffs’ constitutional claims are fundamentally flawed because they fail to recognize that [Virginia’s] policy of permitting all voters to apply for an absentee ballot is not a ‘restriction’ on voting rights at all – instead, it expands access to the voting process,” the brief says.

The Virginia General Assembly plans to make easier access to absentee ballots a permanent part of its election process after the June 23 primary.

A law the General Assembly approved this year would allow all registered voters to use mail-in voting on request without the need to claim an excuse. The law takes effect July 1.

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