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Government

45-day election season went smoothly, Virginia registrar says

The longer election period has appeared to be popular among voters, according to Keith Balmer, director of elections for City of Richmond. However, turnout in Richmond seems to have dropped compared to the 2018 midterm elections, he said.

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By Cassandra Loper

Virginia voters now have a lengthened, 45-day election period to vote in person or by mail via absentee ballot. The state also offers same-day voter registration now, having scrapped the traditional cut-off date of about three weeks before the election.

The longer election period has appeared to be popular among voters, according to Keith Balmer, director of elections for City of Richmond. However, turnout in Richmond seems to have dropped compared to the 2018 midterm elections, he said.

“The turnout was over 50%,” he said. “Four years later the turnout for this election looks like it’s going to be about 41, maybe 42%.”

Voter turnout statewide this election is projected to be around 48%, according to the Washington Post. Over 972,000 people voted early, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, or VPAP. Almost 70% of those votes were cast in person.

The midterm elections went smoothly around the state, other than a few hiccups, according to an election night update from Susan Beals, the commissioner of the Department of Elections. There were no specific reports of voter harassment or intimidation at the polls, according to the Virginia Mercury.

There has not been a need to increase the number of election officers in Richmond in response to the longer election season, according to Balmer. There are less election officers needed during midterm elections compared to presidential elections, he said, and even less needed during early voting because the lines aren’t as long.

Richmond had approximately 700 election officers for the midterm elections, according to Balmer. About 10 officers on average are deployed throughout each of the district’s 72 precincts, he said.

“It’s like having an election precinct, but for 45 days,” he said. “So it requires more resources as far as staffing to make sure everybody can cast a ballot.”

Election officers have many positions to fulfill, including being a greeter, poll book officer, ballot officer, voting equipment and booth officer, chief officer, assistant chief officer and electoral board, according to the Virginia Department of Elections website.

Evelyn Davis has been an election officer for 20 years, and she was previously chief of elections in her Richmond precinct, she said. Davis started working behind the scenes at the Central Absentee Precinct, or CAP, four years ago.

CAP functions as one precinct that handles all absentee ballots, whether done by mail or in person.

“I have learned quite a bit about politics, which at first I had no interest in,” Davis said.

Early voting and Election Day went smoothly for the midterm elections, according to Davis. Davis hopes to return to the normal precincts eventually, because she’s a people person, she said.

“To see the people just coming out like they did to vote,” Davis said, referring to her favorite part of being an election officer.

Election officers play an important role in getting voters to come back for each election, according to Davis.

“They work year round here,” Davis said.

Davis said her respect has grown substantially for those that work at the Office of Elections, after seeing the work they do to prepare officers.

“You get to see the hard work they put in,” said Katherin Cardozo, communications director for Richmond’s Office of Elections. She is a recent Virginia Commonwealth University graduate with a double major in Criminal Justice and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. This was her first time working the election season, she said.

“Now they kind of make more time out of their daily lives to work for that early voting period,” Cardozo said.

The Department of Justice created a task force last year to address increasing hostility toward election workers, namely in states with close elections. The Election Threats Task Force reviewed over 1,000 contacts reported as harassing or hostile, according to an August DOJ update. Virginia was not 1 of 7 states that experienced the majority of potentially criminal threats.

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Downtown

Missing context, political bias: Some of critics’ objections to Virginia’s new history standards

A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

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A number of groups are questioning new history and social science standards proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration ahead of a Board of Education meeting to begin reviewing them Thursday.

Critics from diverse communities and lawmakers, most recently in a Nov. 15 letter to the governor and school officials, argue the new standards are missing influential figures and events and voice concern about what they say is a lack of transparency regarding who authored the changes.

The standards will set Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science, which are assessed through the Standards of Learning tests. The Board of Education delayed its first review after Superintendent Jillian Balow requested additional time to correct errors, reorder guidance and allow additional experts to weigh in on the draft.

“Continued review and edits to the standards over the past several months have strengthened the content at each grade level,” wrote Balow in a Nov. 10 letter to the Board of Education. “The edits honor the work done previously by Virginians, and national and state experts.”

Balow also said in her letter that draft curriculum frameworks, which are guides for teachers, will be published later.

However, critics in the Nov. 15 letter said the curriculum frameworks missing from the standards make it “impossible for anybody to effectively evaluate the draft as a whole.”

Among the letter’s signatories are 10 Democratic lawmakers and groups including the Virginia Education Association, the nonprofit Hamkae Center, which describes itself as organizing “Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in Virginia,” the Fairfax County NAACP and the Sikh Coalition. The Virginia Education Association referred inquiries to the Hamkae Center.

They also questioned the number of “problematic content changes that fail to reflect the concerns of our diverse communities” and the involvement of groups such as the Michigan based-Hillsdale College in the review of the standards.

Balow said last month that representatives from other colleges expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards after VPM reported that she was working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank, to develop the standards.

Here are a few objections to the proposed new standards that educational and other groups have raised.

Missing context

Critics say parts of the new standards lack proper context.

For example, while the standards replace the term “Indian” with “Indigenous people” and require students to study aspects of the groups, they do not mention that Indigenous People’s Day replaced Columbus Day in 1992 because Indigenous people view Christopher Columbus as a colonizer rather than a discoverer.

Additionally, the standards recognize the development of slavery in colonial Virginia but lack an emphasis on the slave trade and tobacco plantations, critics say.

“Nazis” and “The Final Solution,” which are necessary to understand the Holocaust, are also missing from the standards.

“Content is crucial for understanding the Holocaust and other genocides,” said Gail Flax, a retired educator. “You have to know what happened before and what happened afterward to be able to analyze and contextualize history.”

Narrative

With the removal of historical figures and events, critics have questioned the narrative of history the administration is conveying to students.

Zowee Aquino of the Hamkae Center said the revisions reflect “pretty explicit political bias.” She said the standards also have a Eurocentric theme that focuses on European or Anglo-American ideas and disregards the contributions of ethnic minorities in white countries.

For example, the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a civil rights activist, was removed from the elementary school standards. King’s name first appears in the sixth grade standards.

Aquino said there’s no mention of Juneteenth, the Chinese Exclusion Act or Martin Luther King Jr. Day in any of the standards. China and the African civilization of Mali, which have been part of the standards for world culture studies, have also been removed from third grade standards.

The standards also do not include any mention of tribal sovereignty.

Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said in a letter to the Board of Education that the revised draft deletes “major components of our history and deliberately omits the diverse perspectives that shape our commonwealth and our nation.”

For example, she wrote that the draft omits any discussion of the history or modern-day culture of the Latino community, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders or the LGBTQ community.

“These decisions would mean that hundreds of thousands of Virginia children would not have the opportunity to learn about their community’s contributions to the fabric and history of our nation,” McClellan wrote. “And, all Virginia students would lack a fuller understanding of our country’s history.”

Rejected recommendations

The inclusion of King, the national holiday for the civil rights leader and Juneteenth marking the day when all enslaved Africans became free were several edits recommended by the Virginia Commission on African American History Education, but excluded or generalized in the redraft.

The list of edits excluded include the mention of John Mercer Langston, the first African American congressman from Virginia. The commission’s recommendation that the standards include the phrase that “not everyone was considered a citizen when our country began, and for a long time after that, even until today” was also excluded.

Mention of Indigenous people and their culture being affected by white European colonization was also excluded from the standards, as was the phrase “the Virginia Colony’s economy was greatly dependent upon temporary and permanent servitude.”

Historical errors and inaccuracies

Critics also say the proposed standards have historical errors and inaccuracies.

Specifically, students starting in the fourth grade are required to explain the reasons for the relocation of Virginia’s capital from Jamestown to Williamsburg as part of the Revolutionary War. However, an email from the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium Monday said “this makes absolutely no sense” given Virginia’s capital was moved from Williamsburg to Richmond to provide greater protection against British attack.

Additionally, the group says the standards erroneously convey that Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848, was the most recent president from Virginia instead of Woodrow Wilson, who was elected in 1912.

The standards do not explicitly say which president was most recent. The document only states that students starting in the fourth grade will be required to explain the growth of a new America with an emphasis on the role of Virginians by explaining Virginia’s prominence in national leadership, emphasizing its eight presidents from Thomas Jefferson to Zachary Taylor.

“The previous version of the proposed standards did not contain egregious historical errors such as this because they were developed by a team of educators, division leaders and historians,” the consortium wrote.

Age appropriateness

Aquino also questioned whether the revisions are age appropriate.

For example, first and third graders must learn about the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient law text, and Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, under the proposed history standards. She said the history is “pretty dense and intense” and includes details about capital punishment.

However, Charles Pyle, a spokesman with the Virginia Department of Education, said under the standards, first graders will learn where the first civilizations began and third graders will learn about democracy. He said Aurelius is part of a list of suggested examples of mythical and historical figures students could encounter as they “hear, read, and retell stories.”

Open access

With the focus on the amount of work demanded of teachers due to the workforce shortage, critics question a sentence in the preface of the history standards that states teachers should provide all of their instructional materials to parents.

Under the Board of Education’s current regulations, parents have the right to inspect instructional materials used as part of the educational curriculum for students.

Aquino said many reports link teacher burnout with increased work demands and argued another mandate does not help support students.

“It’s a huge task that the new administration is asking them to take on that doesn’t improve instruction,” Aquino said.

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Education

University of Richmond celebrates New Zealand with gumboot throwing, sheep cuddling, and ambassador visit

The annual event celebrating International Education Week this year focuses on our Kiwi friends.

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Richmonders can sample New Zealand cuisine, visit with some sustainably raised sheep, and more at the University of Richmond along with Bede Corry, New Zealand Ambassador to the U.S. next week as the University of Richmond celebrates International Education Week.

The annual program returns at a pre-COVID cadence with events available for the campus and greater community November 14-18. Programming themes for Aotearoa New Zealand Week include the natural world and sustainability, female leadership, indigenous peoples, and sport.

“Aotearoa” is the Maori name for the country.

“This annual tradition has been a valuable way of promoting deeper connection to cultures in the classroom and beyond. UR’s ‘meeting with’ another country during International Education Week emphasizes our commitment to global engagement, dialogue, and cultural exchange,” said International Education Dean Martha Merritt. “Returning to full-scale engagement is exciting as this week provides an opportunity for our campus and greater community to learn together about Aotearoa New Zealand as they return to the world stage after the pandemic.”

This year, scholars and visitors will travel to Richmond from New Zealand and Washington, D.C. to offer their expertise, and faculty have geared their teaching toward intersections with New Zealand. Participants can also participate in a variety of fun and social activities, including attending a Cricket exhibition or trying a BODYPUMP class (the popular fitness class that originated in New Zealand).

Peak programming that is open to the campus and greater community is on Wednesday, Nov. 16, and key events include:

  • Aotearoa New Zealand Fair, 4:30 p.m., Tyler Haynes Commons
    • More than 20 stations will allow attendees to explore a wide variety of community connections to New Zealand, including a business school case study on Allbirds shoes, children’s literature, urban biodiversity, women in STEM fields, and more. Details here.
  • Aotearoa New Zealand Dinner, 6 p.m., Heilman Dining Center
    • Samplings will include lamb chops, Kiwi burger, fish and chips, kumara, and chocolate lamingtons. Full menu here.

Ambassador Corry will be meeting with members of the campus community during a private event.

A full list of events is available here.

Previous years have focused on Chile, India, East Asia, South Africa, and Denmark. Earlier this year, Richmond received the Association of International Education Administrators Innovation Award in Internationalization, recognizing innovative approaches to International Education Week programming during the pandemic.

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Government

Early voting nears 1 million mark in Virginia

Thousands of Virginians used a warm November Saturday to cast ballots on the final day of early voting. Over 1 million absentee ballots were issued in the 45-day stretch of early voting that ended Nov. 5, and over 940,000 have been returned.

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Chloe Hawkins

Thousands of Virginians used a warm November Saturday to cast ballots on the final day of early voting.

Lawmakers passed a series of election reform measures in recent years that expand the voting period and allow for no-excuse absentee voting, or early voting.

Virginia voters will elect a member to the U.S. House of Representatives in all of the state’s 11 congressional districts, with varying districts also voting on local candidates and initiatives. Over 1 million absentee ballots were requested, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Over 940,000 ballots have been received as of Nov. 7. Over 680,000 ballots were returned in person, and over 226,000 ballots were mailed.

Polls were open on weekdays except for the two Saturdays preceding the election. A steady line of people waited five to 10 minutes outside the Henrico County Western Government Center to vote Saturday. Some people waited longer than they might on Election Day, but appreciated the convenience of checking voting off their to-do list.

Henrico County general registrar Mark Coakley has held the position for 18 years, he said. Coakley, who studied political science in college, said he chose to be a part of the political process because it’s been a passion of his since he was a young adult.

“I’m really excited for voters showing up,” Coakley said. “Today, and on Election Day.”

Voters are happy with this shift, he said.

“With early voting, the voters get to choose to wait in line at 8:30 on a Saturday morning,” Coakley said. “It’s their choice — they’re not forced to vote on a Tuesday after a long workday.”

Alan Wagner is a voter who lives in Henrico County, parts of which are in congressional District 1. Wagner is concerned about crime, and the economy—especially the rising costs of items due to inflation, he said.

“I’m afraid to go into downtown Richmond sometimes,” Wagner said. “And the gas and food prices are outrageous.”

This is the first year Wagner voted early, in four decades of voting, he said. He decided to vote early due to the uncertainty of his work schedule on Election Day.

“I’m really busy working 10-hour shifts,” Wagner said. “I don’t know what the lines will look like at the precinct after 5 o’clock on Tuesday.”

Virginia residents have more of a voice in elections such as midterms, Coakley said, when they choose representatives to speak on their behalf in Congress. But, turnout is always higher in a presidential election. Almost 2.7 million early votes were cast in 2020 in Virginia, according to the state’s Department of Elections. For the gubernatorial election last year, over 1.1 million people voted early, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, or VPAP.

Although voter turnout in the 2018 midterm election was historic, an expanded time frame for early voting did not exist, Coakley said, which makes turnout comparisons more difficult.

“These laws weren’t put in place in 2018,” Coakley said. “But they have caused an increase in early voting.”

For example, over 330,000 early votes were cast in 2018 in Virginia, and that number will likely be at least three times higher this year, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections. But, 1.2 million more people voted in 2018 than the previous midterm election. It remains to be seen if turnout this year will reach similar participation.

There is a 70% return rate of absentee ballots overall in Virginia as of Nov. 7, with the lowest district return rate at 64% and the highest at 76%, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

Election Day is Nov. 8. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by that date and received by noon three days after the election to count. Voters can find their polling place on the Virginia Department of Elections website. Voters can also register to vote on Election Day, though they will be given a provisional ballot.

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