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Government

Spanberger declares victory in close Congressional race; Freitas waits

Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger declared victory Wednesday over Republican Del. Nick Freitas in the tight 7th District U.S. House of Representatives race, though some absentee ballots remain uncounted.

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By Anya Sczerzenie 

Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger declared victory Wednesday over Republican Del. Nick Freitas in the tight 7th District U.S. House of Representatives race, though some absentee ballots remain uncounted.

The reporting of absentee ballots from Henrico and Spotsylvania counties late afternoon Wednesday pushed Spanberger into a slim lead. Spanberger had won 50.5% of votes, while Freitas secured 49.4% of votes, according to The Virginia Public Access Project. Spanberger was leading Freitas Wednesday evening by 5,134 votes and as many as 5,269 additional absentee ballots still could factor into the race.

Spanberger, who just hours earlier has released a video on social media calling for patience through the process, declared victory after the boost in votes. She said she looked forward to continuing her work in Congress.

“Tonight, the Seventh District affirmed its commitment to leadership in Congress that puts Central Virginia first, works for everyone, and focuses on expanding opportunity for the next generation of Virginians,” Spanberger said in the press release.

Freitas said his campaign will make an official statement Friday when all votes are tallied, out of respect for the race.

Spanberger addressed her district in a Facebook Live speech shortly after declaring victory, in which she underlined her commitment to several issues. She promised to work on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, extending broadband internet coverage to rural areas, and protecting Americans from foreign hacking.

“I said I would find common ground, and I said I would hold my ground if necessary,” Spanberger said, “and I believe I have done just that.”

This victory would clinch a second term in a district that only recently turned blue in 2018 when Spanberger, a former CIA agent, beat David Brat.

Freitas is an Army veteran and member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Orange, Culpeper and Madison counties. He is seeking his first term in Congress. Freitas first won a House seat in 2015. He kept his seat in a write-in campaign in 2019 and then weeks later he announced his bid for the 7th District. Freitas’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 “The first issue Abigail Spanberger will work on is COVID-19,” said Connor Joseph, a spokesperson for Spanberger’s campaign. “Every issue is through the lens of COVID-19.”

Joseph said Spanberger plans to increase broadband internet access to rural communities, and emphasized the need for it during a pandemic where school and work often take place online.

The race was closely watched and predicted. Politico rated the race a “toss up” just before the election. The University of Virginia Center for Politics thought Spanberger might perform better than Biden in her district and said her two-years of experience might help.

Spanberger, who grew up in the same district she currently represents, is rated a moderate Democrat. She often touts a focus on bipartisanship. In October, Spanberger voted against the second HEROES Act—a coronavirus relief package endorsed by Democrats—and wrote in a press release that she found the bill too partisan. She is a member of the “March to Common Ground” caucus, which is working to draft a bipartisan COVID-19 relief plan.

Freitas is a conservative Republican who supports gun rights. He has been described as having a “conservative voting record and a libertarian streak” by the Associated Press. Freitas sponsored a resolution during the pandemic that would have allowed the legislature to vote on any state of emergency declarations made by the governor that last longer than seven days, but the measure didn’t advance. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in March, and it remains in place.

The 7th District now leans more Democrat with the 2016 removal of Hanover County, home to primarily Republican voters. It encompasses both suburban and more rural precincts, including Henrico and Chesterfield counties and also Spotsylvania and Louisa counties. The voter profile is 72% white and 19% Black, according to VPAP.

The race injected more cash into broadcast and cable TV advertising than the presidential race, a significant amount of money for a two-year seat. Around $15 million was spent on TV attack ads, according to VPAP. Spanberger spent more than the Freitas campaign. Spanberger ads mostly focused on Freitas voting records, while Freitas ads delved into Spanberger’s CIA past and attempted to make a negative association with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The final count of remaining absentee ballots will be announced Friday at the earliest. Pundits often note that absentee ballots are often cast by Democrats, while Election Day returns lean more Republican.

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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.

Government

Early voting opens in Virginia; same-day registration new this year

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23. Legislators have passed in recent years voting reform measures that expand access to the polls, including a new law that allows same-day voter registration.

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By Natalie Barr

Virginia voters can cast their ballots for the November election starting Friday, Sept. 23.

Voters can submit absentee ballots by mail or in person at their local registrar’s office, commonly referred to as early voting. No application or reason is necessary to vote early. Some jurisdictions may have additional satellite locations, according to a press release from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Early in-person voting will also be held the two Saturdays preceding Election Day. In-person early voting ends on Nov. 5, the Saturday before the election.

New this year is the ability to register to vote up to and on Election Day. Any voters who register after the Oct. 17 deadline will be given a provisional ballot. Legislators have passed voting reform measures in recent years that expand access to the polls.

VCU Votes, a student-led coalition at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, educates students on the importance of voting, according to the organization’s mission statement. The coalition recently held a student voter registration event on National Voter Registration Day.

Cameron Hart, director of partnerships for VCU Votes, said the group also promotes the importance of elections. Students need the space to educate themselves and develop their own thoughts and make their own decisions, Hart said.

“It’s very important to vote and use your voice and exercise that civic duty,” Hart said.

Many students who came to the event were already registered to vote, Hart said. Hart wants people to view voting as important for all elections, not just presidential races.

“I feel like it’s important to vote in any election, but also stressing the importance of voting locally,” Hart said. “This election is directly affecting us. If you feel a certain way about a law, voting can help express your voice in order to maybe reverse that law.”

The upcoming election will be the first time voting for physical therapy student Nikolett Kormos. Kormos, a freshman, said she registered to vote at the event.

“I think it’s super important to vote, and for young people to vote,” Kormos said. “It keeps us educated.”

Absentee ballots will be mailed starting Sept. 23 to military and overseas voters, and to anyone who has applied to receive one, according to a state Department of Elections press release.

Voters can request a mail-in absentee ballot through the Department of Elections site until Oct. 28. Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 8 and received by the registrar no later than noon on the third day following the election, according to the Department of Elections. Mailed ballots also require a witness signature. Ballots can be dropped off at the registrar’s office by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Voters can direct questions to their general registrar’s office or the Department of Elections, where they can also see what types of identification are accepted.

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Crime

New VCU study directly connects derelict properties to risk of violence in Richmond neighborhoods

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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By Brian McNeill, VCU News

Negligent landlords — those who allow their properties to become dilapidated despite having tenants — are a significant predictor of violence in Richmond neighborhoods, even more than personal property tax delinquency, population density, income levels and other factors, according to a new study by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Negligent landlords contribute significantly to violence in Richmond neighborhoods via the environment,” said lead author Samuel West, Ph.D., an alum of the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences and an assistant professor of psychology at Virginia State University. “This impact was above and beyond the impact of those who live in these neighborhoods in terms of the state of their respective properties.”

West and other researchers at VCU collected data on violence events, tax delinquency of company-owned properties (such as rental homes and apartments), tax delinquency of personal properties, population density, race, income, food stamps and alcohol outlets for each of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

Tax delinquency of company-owned properties was the only variable that predicted violence in all but four of Richmond’s 148 neighborhoods.

The researchers replicated the analysis using violence data for a different time period and found the same result.

“The key finding here was that the company delinquency was a stronger or more important correlate of violence than personal delinquency,” said West, who initiated the project while serving as a postdoctoral researcher with the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health.

The study, “Comparing Forms of Neighborhood Instability as Predictors of Violence in Richmond, VA,” was published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS One.

In addition to West, the study was authored by Diane L. Bishop, an instructor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health in the School of Medicine; Derek Chapman, Ph.D., interim director for research at the VCU Center on Society and Health and an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health; and Nicholas Thomson, Ph.D., director of research for the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at VCU Health Trauma Center.

The findings are consistent with previous research that suggests “slumlord buyout programs” are tied to reduced violence in cities, West said. For example, a program in Philadelphia purchased neglected properties in the East Liberty neighborhood and provided them to community residents to renovate and rehabilitate. It led to a decline in violence over a sustained period of time, West said.

“Although we acknowledge this would be a massive effort, the data do support the use of such programs to curb violence among other social difficulties,” West said. “I believe that Richmond is a perfect place to attempt a program like this at a larger scale than was done in Philadelphia (i.e., a single neighborhood).”

There are no laws in Virginia protecting tenants from eviction if their landlord loses their rental property to state property auction, West said. In Richmond, along with most medium to large cities, delinquent properties are seized and auctioned off to recoup costs, he said.

“When this happens, the winners of the auction are typically given carte blanche to decide what to do with the tenants as they no longer have a valid contractual agreement,” he said. “This aspect greatly endangers the residential stability of our neighborhoods.”

West was inspired to explore this topic through his observation of dilapidated buildings next to new construction in Richmond.

“Given the preponderance of real estate development and the aggressive housing market in Richmond, it seemed important to better understand how these seemingly inane facets of our society may impact some of our deepest problems,” he said.

The researchers hope their findings will contribute to a growing perspective by scholars that research should break away from the traditional view that members of a community hold the majority of the blame for violence that occurs there.

“Our work, along with other recent research, emphasizes that we need to be examining and addressing the impacts of forces from outside high-violence communities that carry such major consequences,” West said.

He added, however, that individual autonomy might also be considered a key factor.

“Social psychologists place a major emphasis on autonomy as a psychological need. In the case of a negligent landlord, the tenant(s) may live in a constant state of highly salient violations of their own autonomy which may further undermine attempts to improve the conditions of their own communities,” he said. “As evinced by the East Liberty project from Philadelphia, when this autonomy is restored, it is used in a productive fashion such that it improves the quality of life and safety of all in their communities through restoring their collective efficacy.”

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Downtown

New tool allows you to find out whether you’ll receive a $250 tax rebate from the Commonwealth

Over the last few days, the Virginia Department of Taxation began the process of sending out roughly 3.2 million tax rebate payments of up to $250 per person.

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By Graham Moomaw

Over the last few days, the Virginia Department of Taxation began the process of sending out roughly 3.2 million tax rebate payments of up to $250 per person.

But not everybody is getting one. Eligibility for the one-time rebates, a result of huge revenue surpluses filling up state coffers, depends on how much a filer owed in state taxes for 2021.

To help people find out if they’ve got money coming their way in the next few weeks, tax officials published an online tool Monday that lets Virginians check their eligibility.

The website, which can be found here, allows taxpayers to type in their Social Security number/tax identification number and zip code, and then shows them how much money they can expect to receive.

The rebates, most of which will go out via check or direct deposit by Oct. 10, were part of the bipartisan budget deal the General Assembly approved in June. The exact timing of the payments depends on when a taxpayer filed their return, but officials have said all rebates should be completed by the end of the year.

At a budget meeting last week, tax officials said they expect to send out about 1.9 million checks and 1.3 million direct deposit payments at a rate of roughly 250,000 rebates per day.

Some taxpayers will have their rebates sent somewhere else to help settle an outstanding debt, but tax officials have said they are planning to explain where the money went in those cases.

The state has also boosted its call-center resources in anticipation of an influx of calls from taxpayers asking about the rebates. During a similar rebate initative in 2019 that involved smaller payments, the state received roughly 60,000 phone calls, according to Virginia Tax Commissioner Craig M. Burns.

“I expect we’ll receive probably north of that again this time,” Burns told the House Appropriations Committee last week.

“You might get 60,000 calls,” joked Appropriations Chairman Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach. “If they’re not there on Nov. 1, we’re going to get 60,000 also.”

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