Democrats protest Republican-controlled electoral board's early voting changes in Richmond

Posted at 6:24 PM, Jul 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-28 09:08:55-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- City leaders, community activists, and Southside residents gathered at the Hickory Hill Community Center Thursday afternoon to criticize a decision by the local electoral board to remove two early-voting satellite locations.

"We know that this is simply voter suppression," City Council President and 9th District Representative Mike Jones said of the decision

Speakers said the Republican-controlled board voted 2-1 on Tuesday to remove Hickory Hill and City Hall as early voting sites, leaving only the election office's Laburnum site.

"The Richmond electoral board made an intentional decision to make it harder for Black and brown Richmonders to vote, intentional decision to make it harder for Richmonders to vote," said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who added 25% of the over 11,000 early votes cast in the last election were at those two locations.

The decision was first reported by Axios Richmond.

Under Virginia law, local electoral boards have a majority that matches the party of the governor, in this case Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, and speakers called on the governor to step in, considering recent pushes by him and the party on early voting.

"The Governor could do this today. He says he supports early voting. He could actually make a phone call. It was own party in his own backyard, but we're not holding our breath," said Aaron Mukerjee, Voter Protection Director with the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Speakers alleged the action taken by the board was illegal, pointing to a section of the Virginia Code which states, in part, "[t]he governing body of any county or city may establish, by ordinance, voter satellite offices to be used in the locality for absentee voting in person. The governing body may establish as many offices as it deems necessary."

The city attorney also sent a letter to the board Thursday afternoon informing them the action went against state code.

Stoney added the board made the decision for financial reasons, saying the $100,000 was too much, but said the city had budgeted money to the elections office for satellite voting.

"We strongly urge you to hold an emergency meeting as soon as possible ASAP to resolve this critical matter. The ball is in your court," said Stoney.

And it seems that will happen, as within an hour of the news conference ending, the Richmond Office of Elections announced it would hold an emergency meeting on August 4, 2023 to discuss satellite voting.

In response to questions about the decision, the board's chair sent the following statement to CBS 6:

"My primary reason to not open the satellite locations at City Hall and Hickory Hill Community Center is the cost factor. During the past 2 years, I along with Registrar Balmer reviewed the number of voters vs. the cost to have these locations open. The cost is astronomical when you look at how many voters are coming in to vote vs. what the City of Richmond is spending," said Chairwoman Starlet Stevens. "The Board has set another meeting for Friday, August 4 at 10:00 to revisit this issue."

A spokesperson for Gov. Youngkin pointed to the same section of code as those at the news conference and said "Virginia code states that voting satellite offices are established by a local governing body, not the electoral board."

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

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