This week’s newsletter discusses the new and sudden GOP embrace of the Democrats’ hard-fought early voting initiatives, reflects on my participation with the Richmond stop of the nationwide Banned Book Tour, shares information from recent Board and Commission meetings, and discusses some select community events from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
The New GOP Embrace of Democrats’ Early Voting Measures
In 2020, Virginia’s Democrats in the General Assembly passed historic legislation ensuring safe ballot access to all voters in the Commonwealth. These measures include expanding early voting opportunities, no-excuse absentee ballots, and same-day voter registration. Reforms such as these helped Virginia move from one of the most restrictive states to one of the most protective of voting rights; in doing so, Virginia jumped from 49th place in 2016 to 12th place in 2020. This dramatic change should be a source of pride for us all.
As Democrats introduced and successfully passed these measures in 2020 and 2021, Republicans in the General Assembly repeatedly sought to defeat the legislation. They voted against these bills and introduced legislation of their own to repeal the progress that Virginia had made. Some pushed false and disruptive narratives of widespread voter fraud, embraced conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election, and sought to undermine voter confidence in early voting. During the 2023 session, Republicans introduced and supported legislation to shorten the early voting period from 45 days to 14 days, repeal access to ballot drop boxes, and end same-day voter registration.
The Democratic initiatives for early voting have proven to be especially popular among voters. Early voting and Saturday/Sunday voting options are significantly important for those who have restrictive work schedules, long work days, lack of transportation access, and numerous other challenges.
For the past three elections, Republicans have worked relentlessly to stop early voting and to sow mistrust around Virginia’s expanded protections for voting rights and access. It is therefore ironic that last week Governor Youngkin and the Virginia Republican party announced an initiative meant to increase early voting among Republicans. This move is also embraced by the Republican National Committee (RNC), despite the fact that Donald Trump, the party’s acknowledged leader, continues his false claims that early voting and mail-in ballots are illegal.
Youngkin and his party’s about-face on this issue is interesting. The questions remain: will Republicans acknowledge that the expansion and protections of voting rights are crucial to our democracy? Will they commit to protecting these rights, or move–yet again–to curtail them should they gain majority power?
Safeguarding Virginia’s Progress
The November General Election is less than four months away, and Virginia’s future is on the line—voting access, abortion and reproductive health care, funding for education, protections for our environment, criminal justice reform, and so much more. To protect this progress, the Democratic Party of Virginia publicly announced the biggest, earliest voter turnout project in Virginia’s legislative history: The Majority Project. Staff and volunteers will be working across the state to mobilize voters. Voters can request absentee ballots now through the Virginia Department of Elections. Early in-person begins on September 22, and Election Day (now a state holiday thanks to Democrats) is Tuesday, November 7.
Banned Books Tour
On Monday, I joined a large gathering of concerned citizens for MoveOn Political Action’s Banned Bookmobile Tour. The Banned Bookmobile Tour is meant to draw attention to the Republican rightwing extremists’ efforts to ban books all across the country. Speaking in front of the Richmond Public Library, I was joined by former Virginia Secretary of Education, Ann Holton; Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg; Tiffany Van Der Hyde, Executive Director of We the People for Education; Dr. Laurenett Lee, University of Richmond professor and candidate for the Chesterfield School Board (Midlothian District), and Madison Irving, candidate for the Henrico School Board (Three Chopt District).
In 2022, the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF) recorded the highest number of book ban attempts since it began keeping record 20 years ago: a total of 1,269 attempts to ban books and resources in 2022. Virginia has witnessed some schools removing books. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in 2022 that 23 Virginia school districts had removed books from their school library shelves. A list of the ten most challenged books of 2022 can be found here.
Joining this fight against extremists’ efforts to censor and book bans is former President Barack Obama. On Monday, the former President released his powerful letter thanking librarians across the country and encouraging Americans to Unite Against Book Bans.
This week has been busy with various Commission and Board meetings. On Monday, as a member of the Disability Commission, I joined my colleagues as we received presentations on Medicaid eligibility and independent living. On Wednesday, the Housing Commission’s Work Group on Real Property, Community Development, and Best Land-Use Practice met to hear presentations on the bond creation process for development projects. Finally, Thursday’s meeting of the Board of Visitors for the Virginia School of Deaf and Blind Board of Visitors received reports from the Superintendent, approved several policies for the School, and heard public comment from a number of alumni and others regarding the School’s proposals for a new mascot designed to unify the students of the deaf and blind communities. The ongoing efforts of these commissions and work groups helps to prepare proposals for the upcoming legislative session.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Connecting With My Office