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Elections Initiatives Under Way; Funding Remains Critical Need

Elections administration and security are topics of increasing attention at the state and federal levels, and there are several efforts underway in Virginia to implement major elections initiatives enacted this session.

The increasing complexity of elections administration, coupled with limited state support, often makes this critical function a challenge for localities. During the 2019 session, VACo worked with the Chairs and members of the House and Senate Privileges and Elections Committees to introduce budget language that would have established a workgroup to examine the funding of elections in Virginia, including relative shares of state and local support and opportunities for cost-saving efficiencies. Although the language was not included in the state budget, VACo anticipates that this issue will be a component of its advocacy efforts in the upcoming session.

At the federal level, NACo recently convened a small working group on elections administration and security and plans to work more extensively on these issues as the topic is increasingly under discussion in Congress. As NACo staff explained at a meeting with several state associations of counties earlier this spring, previous federal efforts to provide funding to support elections administration have been largely channeled to states, although many states vest localities with substantial responsibility to administer elections, as is the case in Virginia. NACo plans to encourage federal policymakers to include local governments in future election policy reform efforts. VACo has provided NACo with information on the structure and funding of elections administration in Virginia to assist in this advocacy work.

Legislation was introduced in 2019 at the request of the Administration to direct the State Board of Elections to establish standards for the security of the state’s voter registration system (VERIS), to include the technology used in individual localities to connect to VERIS. The legislation was intended to respond to concerns about the security of voter databases, which have been widely reported in the national media. During the session, VACo advocated for the state to engage in meaningful consultation with the local experts who administer the systems that connect with VERIS before mandating any standards for these systems. VACo and VML worked with the Administration and the bill patrons to include a requirement for the State Board to convene a workgroup of local government information technology professionals to consult on the development of the standards, and to develop cost estimates for their implementation. Additional language in the bill requires the State Board to convene a standing advisory group of IT professionals and general registrars to consult on any future updates to the standards.

Earlier this spring, the Virginia Association of Local Government Information Technology Executives (VALGITE) recruited volunteers for the workgroup from among its membership, and the workgroup held its initial meeting earlier this month. It is expected that the workgroup will complete its meetings in October in advance of the State Board’s consideration of proposed standards in December. VACo is appreciative of these professionals’ willingness to commit substantial time to provide their expertise on this issue.

No-excuse in-person absentee voting
Another major change to election administration was enacted in 2019 after many years of discussion of similar proposals. Under legislation that was approved this session, beginning with the November 2020 general election, voters will be able to vote by absentee ballot in person, without needing to provide an excuse, for the week prior to the election (between the second Saturday preceding the election and the Saturday immediately preceding the election). Absentee in-person voting for voters who qualify under the existing list of excuses will be available from the 45th day preceding the election until the beginning of the “no-excuse” period. The State Board is tasked with reporting to the General Assembly and the Governor on its plans to implement the legislation; as part of the planning process, the Department of Elections held several meetings this spring with the leadership of the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia and the Virginia Electoral Board Association, representatives from VACo and VML, and interested localities. VACo has advocated for a flexible approach to implementation that will allow local options to manage logistics for the “no-excuse” period before the regular election day.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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