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Northam delays upcoming elections; others push for November alternatives

Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he is delaying the June primary election by two weeks and is calling on the General Assembly to approve moving May elections to November.

Capital News Service

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By Joseph Whitney Smith

Governor Ralph Northam announced Wednesday that he is delaying the June congressional primaries by two weeks and is calling on the General Assembly to approve moving May elections to November.

“We have wrestled with our options and none of them are ideal or perfect,” Northam said. “Voting is a fundamental right, but no one should have to choose between protecting their health or casting a ballot.”

State legislators will have to sign off on the governor’s proposal to move the May local and special elections. Northam proposed that these races appear on the November ballot. All absentee ballots already cast would be discarded, the governor said. Additionally, those officials whose terms expire as of June 30 will continue in office until their successors have been elected in November.

The primary for Congressional races and a few local races has been postponed to June 23.

“As other states have shown, conducting an election in the middle of this global pandemic would bring unprecedented challenges and potential risk to voters and those who work at polling places across the Commonwealth,” Northam said.

Groups and state leaders have been calling for proactive measures such as mail-in voting for the upcoming Nov. 3 presidential election, fearing ongoing impact from the coronavirus pandemic. Virginia Democrats recently joined other Democratic groups nationwide calling on federal lawmakers to create voting alternatives for the presidential election due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The groups are asking for provisions such as free or prepaid postage, allowing ballots postmarked by election day to count, in addition to extending early voting periods for in-person voting. Two possible alternatives to replace voting in person are mail-in and absentee ballots, according to Stephen Farnsworth, a professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg that specializes in media and elections.

Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, supports the idea of a universal mail-in ballot, regardless of the current pandemic. An MIT research study found that universal vote by mail cuts costs, increases turnout and improves election reliability. However, the success of these programs depends on transparency, accuracy and accessibility. Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah have introduced mail-in only ballots.

“We need to take up this essential task of giving all Virginians an opportunity to participate in a safe and inclusive election,” Carroll Foy said in an email.The delegate recently filed paperwork to run for governor in 2021, according to the Virginia Mercury. 

Carroll Foy said the mail-in method is preferable to absentee voting because individuals need to opt in to register for absentee voting. Mail-in voting allows any registered voter to mail in their ballot without opting in, Carroll-Foy said. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states using the mail-in method mail ballots to every registered voter, while absentee ballots are first requested and voters must qualify to receive the ballot.

“We want to make sure that everyone feels safe and secure in these uncertain times, and that their constitutional rights are protected and easily accessed — mail in ballots are the best to achieve both,” Carroll Foy said.

Farnsworth believes it’s unlikely that the November U.S. presidential election will be delayed, but said voters may see changes at the polls.

“Even for states that don’t make the switch away from largely in-person voting, you can expect much greater opportunities for no-excuse-required early and absentee voting,” Farnsworth said.

During the General Assembly 2020 session, legislators passed House Bill 1 to allow a no excuse requirement to vote absentee. This removes prior requirements such as work, illness or travel to justify requesting an absentee ballot.

Farnsworth said a mail-in only option is the most likely alternative over traditional in-person voting if the nation is still on lockdown in November.

According to Anna Scholl, executive director of advocacy group Progress Virginia, postponing elections is the right move for Virginia voters.

“Postponing elections is a serious decision but it is the right move for our communities,” Scholl stated in a news release. “We strongly encourage the General Assembly to ratify this plan when they meet on April 22nd.”

The deadline to have an absentee ballot mailed for the June primary is June 2. Absentee ballot request forms can be found at www.vote.virginia.gov.

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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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VDH launches first of its kind contact tracing app to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam on Wednesday announced the launch of COVIDWISE, an innovative exposure notification app that will alert users if they have been in close contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19. Virginia is the first state in the country to design a COVID-19 app using Bluetooth Low Energy technology developed by Apple and Google, which does not rely on personal information or location data. Users opt-in to download and utilize the free app.

“We must continue to fight COVID-19 from every possible angle,” Governor Northam said in a news release. “The COVIDWISE exposure notification app gives you an additional tool to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your community while maintaining your personal privacy. I encourage all Virginians to download and use this app, so we can work together to contain this virus.”

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) developed COVIDWISE in partnership with Spring ML using funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The free app is available to download through the App Store and the Google Play Store. COVIDWISE is the only app in Virginia allowed to use the exposure notifications system (ENS) application programming interface (API) jointly created by Apple and Google. Other countries, including Ireland and Germany, have successfully used this technology in similar apps.

“As COVID-19 cases continue to be identified across the Commonwealth, it is important for people to know whether they have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for the disease,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “COVIDWISE will notify you if you’ve likely been exposed to another app user who anonymously shared a positive COVID-19 test result. Knowing your exposure history allows you to self-quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention, and reduce potential exposure risk. The more Virginians use COVIDWISE, the greater the likelihood that you will receive timely exposure notifications that lead to effective disease prevention.”

COVIDWISE works by using random Bluetooth keys that change every 10 to 20 minutes. iOS and Android devices that have the app installed will anonymously share these random keys if they are within close proximity for at least 15 minutes. Each day, the device downloads a list of all random keys associated with positive COVID-19 results submitted by other app users and checks them against the list of random keys it has encountered in the last 14 days. If there is a match, COVIDWISE may notify the individual, taking into account the date and duration of exposure, and the Bluetooth signal strength which is used to estimate proximity.

Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 will be notified by a VDH case investigator and will be given a unique numeric code. This code is entered into the app by the user and serves as verification of a positive report. Others who have downloaded COVIDWISE and have been in close proximity to the individual who reported as being positive will receive a notice which reads, “You have likely been exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.” This is your alert to get tested.

The notice includes the estimated number of days since the exposure and provides several options for taking further action, including contacting a primary care physician or local health department, monitoring symptoms, and finding nearby test locations. The Virtual VDH tab within the app also provides links to online resources and relevant phone numbers.

Anyone who downloads the app has the option to choose to receive exposure notifications, and if a person is diagnosed with COVID-19, it is up to them whether or not to share their result anonymously through COVIDWISE. No location data or personal information is ever collected, stored, tracked, or transmitted to VDH as part of the app. Users have the ability to delete the app or turn off exposure notifications at any time.

Officials say widespread use is critical to the success of this effort, and VDH is launching a robust, statewide public information campaign to make sure Virginians are aware of the COVIDWISE app, its privacy protection features, and how it can be used to support public health and help reduce the spread of the virus.

To learn more about COVIDWISE and download the app, visit www.covidwise.org.

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Step into the past with Wickham House Virtual Tour

The Wickham House is currently closed due to the pandemic but you can still get a peek inside.

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The Valentine knows that getting out and about in the current situation isn’t ideal and in some cases completely impossible. To help the learning continue they’ve just launched a virtual tour of the Wickham House.

The Wickham House from the courtyard

The Wickham House sits at 1015 E. Clay Street and was completed in 1812. The Wickham House property once took up a whole city block. In 1882 it was purchased by Mann Valentine II, who filled the house with artifacts and then bequeathed them and the house for the establishment of a museum.

Welcome to the Wickham House, a National Historic Landmark and the Valentine museum’s largest object. This historic home allows us to tell the complicated story of the Wickham family, the home’s enslaved occupants, sharing spaces, the realities of urban slavery and more. While the Wickham House is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope you will enjoy this sneak peek virtual tour of the historic home.

The tour focuses on the Wickham family, the home’s enslaves inhabitants, the realities of urban slavery, sharing these spaces and more.

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City of Richmond government offices closed Tuesday due to impacts from Isaias

Due to the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias in the Central Virginia region, City of Richmond government offices will be closed Tuesday, August 4th, with only essential employees reporting, the city announced late Monday night.

RVAHub Staff

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Due to the impact of Tropical Storm Isaias in the Central Virginia region, City of Richmond government offices will be closed Tuesday, August 4th, with only essential employees reporting, the city announced late Monday night.

Essential city services will continue.

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