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LIVE BLOG: Election results in Central Virginia, across the Commonwealth

From polls to returns to watch parties, our VCU Capital News Service reporters will provide updates in real-time. The data desk will aggregate the results in various ways, by party affiliation, age, region, and race/ethnicity. The blog will auto-refresh from 3:30 PM until at least midnight with new content as results and analysis come in.

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Virginia voters are waiting to see which candidates emerge victorious after a long election battle that brought more cash, contested seats and likely more turnout than in 2015, the last time all 140 seats in the General Assembly were up for reelection. All eyes are watching Virginia to see which party wrests control of the state legislature.

From polls to returns to watch parties, our VCU Capital News Service reporters will provide updates in real-time. The data desk will aggregate the results in various ways, by party affiliation, age, region, and race/ethnicity.

The blog will auto-refresh from 3:30 PM until at least midnight with new content as results and analysis come in.

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Downtown

Bill to strike Lee-Jackson Day, make Election Day state holiday advances in General Assembly

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday.

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By Zach Armstrong

Virginia lawmakers have advanced Senate bills that make voting easier, including not requiring an excuse to vote absentee and recognizing Election Day as a state holiday. Other legislation that would extend citizen access to voting — part of the 11-point “Virginia 2020 plan” put forward by Gov. Northam — has yet to clear committees.

Senate Bill 601 designates Election Day as a state holiday to give more citizens the chance to cast their ballot. The bill also would strike from current law Lee-Jackson Day, which celebrates the birthdays of Confederate generals. The legislation, introduced by Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, passed the Senate Tuesday.

“Even on Election Day, people have to go to work, people have to handle childcare, people have to go to class and often it can be hard to make it to the polls,” said Del. Ibraheem Samirah, D-Herndon. “It just makes sense that those folks should be given the opportunity to come out and vote in a time window that works for them.”

A bill that removes the need for an excuse to cast an absentee ballot passed the Senate Monday. SB 111, introduced by Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, permits any registered voter to vote by absentee ballot in any election in which he is qualified to vote.

Several other bills that facilitate ease of absentee voting are SB 46, removing the requirement that a person applying for an absentee ballot provide a reason to receive the ballot; SB 455, extending the deadline when military and overseas absentee ballots can be received; SB 617, authorizing localities to create voter satellite offices to support absentee voting; and SB 859, making absentee voting easier for people who have been hospitalized.

Legislation in the House includes a bill that would also allow for no excuse absentee voting, automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. In the Senate, a bill would pre-register teens 16 years old and older to vote and one bill in the House would reduce the period of time registration records must be closed before an election. All House bills are in an Elections subcommittee.

“Restrictive voting provisions almost always disproportionately affects people of color and low-income individuals because those are the groups that move more frequently, work multiple jobs and have less spare time,” said Jenny Glass, director of advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia.

The House and Senate also introduced bills that would remove requirements that voters present a photo ID when voting. Under the legislation, voters can show voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. Neither bill has made it past committee.

Virginians currently must present a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or a U.S. passport, to vote in person. According to a 2012 study by Project Vote, an organization that works to ensure all Americans can vote, approximately 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID. This is especially true of  lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Voters can provide their social security number and other information to get a free Virginia Voter Photo Identification Card, but some legislators said that service is unknown to many.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

Former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signed SB 1256 into law mandating voters have a form of ID with a photograph. Virginia is one of the 18 states with such voting requirements, according to the National Conference of Legislature.

In 2016, the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ID requirement after attorneys for the state Democratic Party challenged the law, arguing it had a disproportionate impact on low income and minority voters.

“People are fed up with our overly restrictive and racist voting policies, and the legislature is finally getting rid of some of the biggest roadblocks to progressive reform,” said Glass. “This has been a long time coming.”

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Downtown

Republican-backed gun bills fizzle on heels of massive rally

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation — including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and allow state employees to bring concealed guns to work — during a firearms subcommittee meeting held Tuesday.

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By Hannah Eason

Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would not require concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship, and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.

One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.

House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.

Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.

“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can’t protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.

Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.

“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico, said. “If you are in a gun free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self defense.”

During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.

HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to not require a permit for a concealed handgun.

Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm.

“But the reason I needed it isn’t because I was going to do anything crazy. It’s because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you’re committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”

Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in a place of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.

Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill.

Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.

“There are some synagogues that don’t even want paid security, because they don’t like firearms, they don’t always want off-duty officers, they don’t want to pay for security, and that’s their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they’re on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”

One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.

The subcommittee tabled HB 596, HB 373 and HB 1486, all in a 5-3 vote. The bills would have allowed guns in places of worship.

HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace.

Other bills tabled Tuesday include :

  • HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.

  • HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.

  • HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would raise the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.

  • HB 1485 said that no locality shall adopt or enforce any workplace rule preventing an employee from carrying a concealed handgun if the employee has a valid concealed handgun permit.

  • HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-Campbell, was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.

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Downtown

More than 22,000 protesters take to Capitol Monday to advocate for gun rights, one arrest reported

Chants of “We will not comply,” and “USA, USA,” sounded through the blanket of security as thousands of armed Second Amendment supporters converged on Richmond to protest proposed gun control measures.

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By Chip Lauterbach

Chants of “We will not comply,” and “USA, USA,” sounded through the blanket of security as thousands of armed Second Amendment supporters converged on Richmond to protest proposed gun control measures.

The rally, organized by the gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League, raised security concerns in the days leading up to it. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and banned firearms from the Capitol grounds from Jan. 17 to Jan. 21.

Over the weekend, Capitol Police erected a fence around the grounds and created one main security checkpoint into the area where speakers would be located. Capitol Police estimated around 22,000 people attended, with 6,000 entering the secured area where weapons were not allowed.

Despite the governor’s ban, many gun rights advocates came armed and opted to stay outside of the State Capitol grounds, flooding streets around the Capitol and legislative offices in the Pocahontas Building.

Capitol Police reported that one arrest was made. A Richmond woman was charged for wearing a mask in public — a felony in Virginia. The armed protesters didn’t attempt to breach the security fence put up around Capitol Square. A red smoke grenade was set off, but no other disturbances were reported. After the event, Northam expressed gratitude that the event wasn’t violent.

“Thousands of people came to Richmond to make their voices heard,” he said in a statement. “Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully.

Days before the rally, the FBI arrested seven members of a white nationalist group called The Base. At least three were reportedly planning to attend the rally and create a violent disturbance. Northam state that such intel prompted him to declare a state of emergency. Some businesses near the Capitol decided to close during the rally, though many remained open.

Philip Van Cleave, VCDL president, tried to dispel fears of violence by releasing social media statement urging attendees to stay peaceful and to focus on supporting the Second Amendment.

“The issue is not race; it’s not politics or politicians,” said Willis Madden, a member of National African American Gun Association from King and Queen County. “It’s not about who is in the White House or who just got elected, the issue is the Second Amendment.”

Many gun rights advocates expressed concern over SB 16, introduced by Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, which would have prohibited the sale and transport of assault firearms and certain types of firearm magazines.

Saslaw pulled the bill last week, but Del. Mark H. Levine, D-Alexandria, introduced a similar bill in the House, HB 961. Levine’s bill would prohibit the sale and transport of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers, and trigger activators, as well as outlines penalties.

Amy Parker of Westmoreland County said gun control legislation doesn’t make her feel safe.

“Everything they are trying to ban is going to get rid of most guns that people use for self defense,” said Parker. “It’s my right to not be a victim.”

Other gun bills in the General Assembly include SB 70, which requires a universal background check when people sell firearms; SB 69, which limits handgun purchases to one a month; SB 35, which allows localities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event; and SB 240, which would create a process for attorneys and law enforcement to file emergency orders prohibiting a person from purchasing, possessing or transferring a firearm if they pose “a substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” The first three were passed the Senate last week and SB 240 awaits a vote.

Van Cleave spoke against the measures endorsed primarily by Northam and Democratic lawmakers. Van Cleave was joined on stage by several Republican legislators, among them Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico and Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield.

“Every other freedom that we have as Americans is based on that Second Amendment,” said Chase, repeating a phrase that she used earlier while addressing advocates waiting in line to lobby lawmakers.

 Chase, who previously wore a pistol on the Senate floor during the 2019 General Assembly session, said in a Capital News Service interview that she was “so encouraged” by the rally turnout. Chase said she will continue to work with gun rights advocates to overturn the proposed legislation: “We’re gonna make it happen.”

Attendees expressed happiness that the massive event was not marred by any major disruptions or violence.

“I’ve been following the bills and listening to all of the news surrounding today, and I wanted to see for myself that those of us in Richmond could come out here and be peaceful,” said Ryan Querry, a psychology student at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Most people say they are surprised that it turned out so peaceful, but this is exactly what I expected.”

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