By Sara Fitzgerald
Last year, millions of Americans were unable to vote because they didn’t know how to register or missed the deadline for doing so. Next week, the League of Women Voters of Falls Church will join thousands of partners across the country in marking September 26 as National Voter Registration Day by helping more eligible persons participate in our democracy and reminding registered voters to keep their registrations current and correct.
Described as “the Earth Day of Democracy,” National Voter Registration Day has been celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of September since 2012 to encourage voters to register before their state’s deadline for the November elections. Last year, 750,000 new voters were registered nationwide on that day. The holiday has been endorsed by the National Association of Secretaries of State and further supported by the National Association of State Election Directors.
Why should you care? Because voters in Falls Church City and across the Commonwealth of Virginia will face important choices this year. On November 7, voters will elect our governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and the 100 members of the House of Delegates. In Falls Church City, voters will elect members of the City Council and the School Board, the Sheriff, the Commissioner of Revenue and the Treasurer. In addition, city voters will decide whether to approve the issuance of up to $120 million in bonds to support school construction projects and equipment.
If you are not already registered, you must register by October 16 to be able to participate in these decision. That is also the deadline for making corrections in your registration information.
In conjunction with National Voter Registration Day, the Falls Church League of Women Voters will be registering voters next week as part of its ongoing work to reach out to new city residents and eligible high school students. It is also encouraging those who have recently moved to make sure their registration information is correct.
To register to vote in Virginia, you must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of Virginia, and at least 18 years old by November 7. If you have been convicted of a felony, you must have had your voting rights restored. If you have been declared mentally incapacitated, your capacity must have been restored by a court order.
If you miss the chance to register on National Voter Registration Day, there are still other ways to do it. The Virginia Department of Elections encourages online registration. Go to https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation to complete the process. (If you have previously registered to vote, but want to make sure your information is current, you can check the status of your registration through the same link.) You can also register at the Office of Voter Registration and Elections at City Hall, Suite 101 East. The office is open from 9 to 5 p.m. weekdays.
If you are a student attending college, you can choose to register at home or at your school address, but not both. Make sure you make this decision before the registration deadline.
Across the country, there has been a concerted effort in many states, including Virginia, to stop some voters from voting or to make it harder for them to participate—and there promises to be more attempts this election year.
It’s worth noting that voting illegally is a serious matter. In Virginia, voting more than once in an election or making a materially false statement on a registration application is considered a felony, punishable by up to 12 months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.
That said, the actual incidence of this kind of fraud is negligible. To cite just one major study, the Brennan Center for Justice reported in 2007 that most reported incidents of voter fraud could be traced to clerical errors or bad data matching, and that in elections in which fraud was reported to have occurred, only between 0.0003 and 0.00025 percent of votes were found to have been fraudulently cast.
The League of Women Voters of the United States remains committed to fighting suppression tactics that threaten our democracy and the right to vote. The League has opposed the so-called “Election Integrity Commission,” arguing that the commission is “fishing” for evidence to justify claims of widespread voter fraud when none exists. Because of these kinds of efforts, it is all the more important for every U.S. voter to manage his or her registration responsibly, and to keep abreast of new voting regulations, including Virginia’s requirement that voters bring an acceptable form of photo identification to the polls. (More details are available at http://www.elections.virginia.gov/voter-outreach/photo-id.html.)
Ninety-eight years ago, the League of Women Voters was founded by women who fought the long battle to extend the right to vote to the previously disenfranchised half of the American population. Now, more than ever, each of us must do what we can to stand up for our democracy by taking the time to preserve—and exercise—that very important right.
Sara Fitzgerald is a member of the League of Women Voters of Falls Church.