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2018 report found nearly 7,000 absentee ballots mailed too late

Virginia voters have already returned more absentee ballots in 2019 than in the November 2015 election — the last time all 140 seats in the General Assembly were up for reelection. In the last few elections, there has been an uptick in absentee ballots, but not all returned ballots are counted.

Capital News Service

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By Aliviah Jones

Virginia voters have already returned more absentee ballots in 2019 than in the November 2015 election — the last time all 140 seats in the General Assembly were up for reelection. In the last few elections, there has been an uptick in absentee ballots, but not all returned ballots are counted.

A Virginia Department of Elections 2018 post-election report found that 6,771 absentee votes did not count in the 2018 election because they were returned to the registrar’s office after Election Day. Eleven were returned late in person and 6,760 were mailed late.

The VDE lists 2018 official absentee ballot counts as 287,763.

The VDE said in the same report that they would “work with general registrars in an attempt to determine if there are patterns that exist preventing the timely return of ballots.”

Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Election Day, or Nov. 5, in order to count. The only exception, according to Andrea Gaines, VDE director of community relations and compliance support, is if voters are overseas or in the military.

The return date is listed on the absentee ballot application, but not the ballot itself, according to Gaines.
“There is no return date on the ballot itself,” she said. “When a voter receives an absentee ballot, they also receive instructions on how to properly cast that ballot in a manner in which it will be counted.”

When asked how VDE worked with registrars to determine patterns preventing the timely return of ballots, per the 2018 report, Gaines said: “Our mission is to provide voters with the information and resources necessary to successfully cast their votes.”

Zareen Farhad, a 19-year-old student at Virginia Commonwealth University, said she is voting absentee this upcoming election because she can’t make it back to Northern Virginia. Farhad said she has voted absentee three times and that the instructions on the ballot are sufficient, but that the VDE website could clarify when the ballot is due.

“I think that the Virginia elections website could be a bit more clear about exactly how to vote absentee and when early in-person voting is,” Farhad said.

Grant Fox, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said the organization recently hired a full-time voter protection director to make sure every vote counts and voters are aware of their rights.

Republican and Democratic candidates have highlighted the option to vote absentee.
John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia said, “we’re encouraged by the absentee numbers.”

As of Monday, the unofficial return count for absentee ballots is 73,903, out of 123,459 absentee ballot applications, according to VDE. 

“Using absentee voting is a good indicator of potential turnout, and if you look at previous elections and compare it to today there has been an increase in this election and overall,” said VDE commissioner Christopher Piper, in a previous CNS interview.

Stakes are high with all 140 legislative seats up for grabs for this first time since 2015, but also since Donald Trump was elected president. Several Senate districts held by Republicans have leaned blue in recent elections since then, and voters pushed Democrats into the House en masse in 2017. Republicans currently hold a slim majority in both chambers of the legislature.

According to an analysis posted by the Virginia Public Access Project, 54 House districts have already surpassed the number of absentee ballots returned in 2015. Of those, 22 are also key House races determined by a CNS analysis of competitive races, redistricting changes, and recent voting trends on Virginia Public Access Project. The top five House districts that have seen over twice the number of return absentee ballots compared to 2015 are:

  • HD 76 – Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, facing Democratic challenger Clinton Jenkins.

  • HD 78 – Del. Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, running unopposed.

  • HD 77 – Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, running unopposed.

  • HD 9 – Democrat Martha Mulger and Republican Colleen Holcomb are running for an open seat in a Republican-held district where Hillary Clinton won in 2016.

  • HD 66 – Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights faces challengers Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman and Independent Linnard Harris Sr.

Twenty-one Senate districts have also had a higher return in absentee ballots than in 2015. Three of the key senate races identified by CNS have had higher returns this year than 2015.

Residents who wish to vote absentee must apply for a mailed absentee ballot by 5 p.m. Tuesday through the VDE online citizens portal or their local voter registration office. The deadline to return absentee ballots to registration officers is Election Day at 7 p.m.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Downtown

Stoney administration launches rent relief program for qualified immigrant families

The program is made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Open Society Foundations, a non-profit organization based in New York dedicated to providing assistance to groups excluded from federal assistance, such as non-citizens, mixed-status families and those with limited English proficiency working in domestic service jobs and other essential industries.

RVAHub Staff

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Today, the city launched a program to provide rent and mortgage assistance to non-citizen and mixed immigration status households in Richmond. This program is designed to support those Richmonders excluded from federal assistance due to their immigration status.

The program is made possible by a $250,000 grant from the Open Society Foundations, a non-profit organization based in New York dedicated to providing assistance to groups excluded from federal assistance, such as non-citizens, mixed-status families and those with limited English proficiency working in domestic service jobs and other essential industries.

To assist as many households as possible, funds per household will be limited to $1500 or up to two months of rent, whichever is less. This support program is intended to aid households who are having trouble paying rent due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants who have not received any other cash assistance throughout the pandemic will be given priority.

Applicants will work with the bilingual staff of the city’s Office of Multicultural Affairs and Help1RVA to determine their eligibility for the program, apply for assistance, and complete the verification process.

“We are grateful for this grant, which will allow us to help bridge the gap for those individuals and families who usually are excluded from receiving government assistance and who play a crucial role in keeping our economy going,” said Karla Almendarez-Ramos, Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

The funds will be sent directly to the landlord or property manager. Applicants must provide proof of income and a valid lease or mortgage statement confirming the landlord-tenant relationship.

Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia, the administrator of the city’s Eviction Diversion Program, will be in charge of making payments to landlords and property managers.

“HOME of VA is proud to partner with the City of Richmond as the fiscal agent to ensure access for vulnerable, underserved, and at-risk populations in the most integrated settings within the community,” said Monica Jefferson, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of HOME. “Housing assistance can make a significant difference in the economic well-being of low-income families and those facing complex housing barriers.”

“If there’s one lesson we should take away from this pandemic, it is that everyone, regardless of immigration status, deserves a place to feel safe and secure,” said Mayor Stoney of the program. “This targeted effort will support families often overlooked in the design and implementation of public support programs, and I am so thankful that so many were willing to come around the table and find a fix to this challenge.”

Interested parties can learn more here.

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Education

Richmond School Board votes to hold 100% virtual classes for first semester of 2020-2021 school year

Due to the ongoing uncertainty around COVID-19, students will receive 100% online instruction when schools reopen this fall in the City of Richmond.

RVAHub Staff

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From the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

After spending hours listening to parents, staff and teachers’ fears about returning to school as the number of COVID-19 cases in Virginia ticks up, the Richmond School Board decided Tuesday to have fully virtual learning in the fall.

The board voted 8-1 to forgo in-person instruction for the fall semester. The lone no vote was cast by Jonathan Young of the 4th District.

The board told Kamras on Tuesday that the administration would need to provide updates on virtual learning at every upcoming board meeting.

Continue reading here.

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Government

Henrico launches rental assistance program for residents impacted by the COVID economy

Funding is available for qualifying, income-eligible households that have been impacted by job loss, furlough, reduction in hours of pay or other factors resulting from the economic downturn precipitated by the pandemic.

RVAHub Staff

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Henrico residents who are experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic and are at risk of losing their rental house or apartment can apply for emergency support through the Henrico COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program.

Funding is available for qualifying, income-eligible households that have been impacted by job loss, furlough, reduction in hours of pay or other factors resulting from the economic downturn precipitated by the pandemic. The emergency program is designed to prevent homelessness; assistance is intended for Henrico renters facing the imminent loss of their residence.

Henrico County has received $360,000 from the federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act to fund the effort.

Since the pandemic surfaced in central Virginia in mid-March, more than 33,900 Henrico residents have filed initial unemployment claims through July 4, according to data from the Virginia Employment Commission. More than 15,200 residents have filed continuing unemployment claims.

Applications in English and Spanish are available from Henrico’s Department of Social Services. Residents can download and print the application or request that one is mailed to them. Beginning Monday, July 13, residents can pick up an application at Social Services’ offices at 8600 Dixon Powers Drive and 3820 Nine Mile Road.

Emergency rental payments of up to $1,500 per month will be made on behalf of Henrico residents who qualify for the program. The payments, which can cover overdue rent, delinquency fees, and court filing fees, will be made for up to four months. Applicants will need to provide documentation regarding the economic impact of the pandemic on their finances and household income as well as additional verification.

The Henrico COVID-19 Rental Assistance program will continue while funding is available.

Additional information is available from Social Services and by calling (804) 501-5294.

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