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Community Matters: When We Challenge, We Win

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Soon after the nation began to quarantine after COVID-19 hit in March, it didn’t take long for advocates and pundits to prognosticate on the effects on the elections and campaigning.

Combined with the US Post Office crisis, it looked as if the elections would be just one more oddity to add to the list of disastrous outcomes of 2020. With only 49 days until Election Day, and three days before early in-person voting starts in Arlington, voting advocates are working overtime to build energy and turnout to achieve our desired results.

Historically, Virginia has been at the forefront of voter suppression, yet in the last few years — and as recently as earlier this year — legislation, executive actions and court decisions have rolled back decades of discrimination and unfair wielding of power to secure desired political outcomes. This year, innovative advocacy groups and campaigns have effectively adapted to our current social distancing norms, and proven the power of a determined citizenry.

Lifting Barriers — In 2020, the General Assembly voted to revise the voter ID restrictions. A recent prospect.org article noted, “Studies have shown that strict voter ID laws, like the one Virginia had implemented, disproportionately affected minorities, people with low incomes, and the elderly. It’s also unclear how voter ID laws would prevent the voter fraud that GOP lawmakers insist they want to avoid.” The legislature also voted to make Election Day a state holiday, which may encourage the private sector to follow. Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled in favor of the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters of Virginia to temporarily suspend the witness requirement for absentee ballots. Absentee ballot drop-off boxes will also continue to be used across the commonwealth, and Arlington will have five early voting satellite locations.

Energy — One would guess that a natural casualty of a socially distanced election season would be energy. Politicians often draw their energy from crowds of people who in turn feed off of each other. I have worked with Network Nova and the Virginia Grassroots Coalition starting with the June 2020 Women’s Summit (Experience), to test ways of building virtual energy. These groups are also leading “Vote Early Win” and #voterchallengeva, which will encourage voters to challenge someone else to vote early and share who they are voting in honor of. We are also organizing “Drive the Vote” (caravans of cars through low turnout neighborhoods) and more social media groups based on affinities. Several groups are also leading webinars and virtual rallies to motivate and educate voters.

National efforts — When We All Vote is an initiative led by former First Lady Michelle Obama to encourage voter participation. It relies on relational organizing and provides tools for users to tap into their own networks via their app, and recruit teams to promote voting. This is one of several large scale efforts in conjunction with celebrities to increase participation.

The Virginia Public Access Project has found that voter registration has returned to a normal level this year, noting an increase in apps over paper. In particular, the League of Women Voters of Arlington has been focusing on voter registration and voter turnout by targeting low turnout and unregistered households, as well as registering voters in full PPE using a QR code.

Arlington has a strong track record of  high voter turnout and engagement, and in the 2016 general election Arlington had an 82.6% turnout of active registered voters. I plan to vote on September 18 in honor of my great grandmother who was never able to vote. This year, let’s do more than vote on Election Day. I challenge you to vote early and also vote in honor of someone else. When we challenge, we win. #voterchallengeva

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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