Rock Your Right to Vote: Get Prepared for Election Day 2020

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By Erin Pittman

In just two short months, the 2020 election will be upon us. Americans will be choosing a new
president, new senators, governors and more. Are you prepared to cast your vote?

Voting: A History

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National Women’s Party demonstration in front of the White House in 1918. The banner protests Wilson’s failure to support women’s suffrage.

When you look back on the history of voting rights, it’s hard not to feel inspired to proudly cast your vote. So many of our ancestors fought diligently to provide us with this right.

In the 1700s, white males were all who were allowed to cast votes in elections. While they may have been forming a democratic country through the drafting of the Constitution, our founding fathers left it up to the states to determine who had the right to cast votes. And the states largely limited those people to white
males who owned land.

Fast forward to the 1800s, when the 15th amendment was added to the Constitution. This amendment was ratified by the states in 1870 and stated that people could not be denied the right to vote based upon race. Despite this change, many southern states found ways to create barriers to voting, including taxes and
literacy requirements.

One hundred years ago this year, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. The first woman to register to vote in Prince William County was 64-year-old Nokesville resident Lucy Wooden. Wooden was among 633 white women and 33 Black women in the county who registered to vote in 1920.

Protests and calls for equal voting arose in the 1960s. After much activism and many organized protests, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. This act barred the negative policies and practices used to limit voting among African Americans, as well as other targeted groups. States were required to submit
their changes to election laws to the Justice Department for approval.

Following this movement in the 1960s, the 26th amendment to the Constitution lowered the voting age from 21 to 18. At a time when many 18-year-olds were enlisting or being drafted for the Vietnam War, this change ensured that everyone fighting for our country had a voice in the government.

In 1975, the Voting Rights Act was expanded to ensure that communities with large groups of non-English-speaking citizens provide voters with materials in their language, as well as multilingual support at the polls. Seven years later, Congress voted to extend the act for another 25 years and expanded coverage to require accessibility at the polls for people with disabilities.

The extremely close 2000 presidential election required a recount and highlighted major equipment malfunctions, poor ballot design, and inconsistent policies and procedures throughout the country.

The Help America Vote Act of 2002, a result of the concerning 2000 election, streamlined voting practices around our nation. 2013 brought a ruling from the Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act, declaring part of it unconstitutional and removing a section that protected voters in areas where race had previously
created restrictions. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not agree with the decision and was quoted as famously saying, “Throwing out pre-clearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

Recent years have brought concerns of voting fraud, equipment malfunction and, this year, the challenges of voting in a pandemic. Democracy depends upon the votes of its citizens in order to be truly representative of its people. Are you prepared to vote?

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Washington, D.C., Aug. 1, 2020 Volunteers register Demand D.C. protesters to vote in D.C., Virginia and Maryland in a tent at the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Getting Registered and Voting in Virginia

To register to vote in the state of Virginia, you must be a permanent resident of the state and a U.S. citizen. Individuals must be 18 years of age on the date of the election, not registered or planning to vote in another state, and not currently declared mentally incompetent in a court of law. For those previously
convicted of a felony, voting rights must be officially restored before voting is allowed.

In Virginia, you must register to vote by Oct. 12. Not sure if you are registered? Visit vote.org to check and access a variety of tools for voters. You can register in minutes online at vote.elections.virginia.gov/Registration. If you prefer to have a hard-copy application, you can pick them up at voter registration offices, armed forces recruitment offices, public libraries and many state/local government agencies. File the completed application with a local registration office by mailing it to the address on the form. It must be postmarked by Oct. 12.

If you prefer to vote via absentee ballot, you must request your ballot no later than Oct. 23. Request an absentee ballot at vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/Lookup/absentee. Return your ballot to your local registrar by 7 p.m. on Election Day. If you are mailing your ballot, it must be postmarked on or
before Election Day and received by your registrar by 12:00 noon on the third day after the election.

If you’ll be voting in person, it’s essential to head to the proper polling place. If you have your voter registration card, your polling place is listed right on it. For those who have misplaced their card, visit vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation/Lookup/polling to locate your polling place. Simply enter your
name, locality and the last four digits of your Social Security number, and voila. You’ll know where to go.

Locating Candidate Information

These days, it often feels like it takes serious combing to find unbiased, factual information. But there are a variety of websites and organizations whose sole reason for existence is to provide straight-forward information on candidates and their stances. iVoterGuide.com is one such site, which allows you to not only
search the names of local candidates, but also to search by the issues that are most important to you. Once you search for an issue, you’ll be provided with information on candidates’ stances, allowing you to make informed decisions about who gets your vote. Other sites that offer candidate information include
Ballotpedia.org, VoteSmart.org and Voterly.com, where you can easily view politicians’ track records.

Interested in viewing a sample ballot? Local site pwcvotes.org has one for you. From the home page, click on “Know before you go … what will be on my ballot” to view it. This local resource also provides reminders of important dates as we get closer to the election. Don’t let registration or voting slip your mind. Text
PWCVOTES to 94253 to receive important reminders via text.

Why Voting Is Important

Voting is a Constitutional right provided to every U.S. citizen — it’s also a privilege and responsibility. This is your say in our country’s government. Voting is a simple way to use your voice to influence real decisions and affect issues far into the future.

We have had presidential elections where the margin was less than 600 hundred votes. Considering the millions of Americans able to vote, that’s a notably small margin.

When your vote joins enough other votes, you directly impact the election of our country’s officials. Many people around the world do not have this freedom, and many of our ancestors did not either. No matter which candidates and issues you support, it’s important to exercise this freedom.

Voting Amid a Pandemic

In light of the global pandemic, this year, absentee voting without a qualifying reason, or “excuse,” is permitted in Virginia, in order to reduce the potential spread of the virus at polling places. If you prefer not to vote in person on Election Day, remember to request your absentee ballot by Oct. 23 and return it by Nov. 3.

At the polls on Nov. 3, voters may encounter longer lines and short staffing, or reduced polling places, due to COVID-19. Because we are in a presidential election year, turnout is expected to be high. To avoid crowds, consider going during nonpeak hours, like midmorning or midafternoon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued COVID-19 safety recommendations for voters. Most of these suggestions won’t be unfamiliar to voters:

  • Wear a mask.
  • Maintain 6 feet of social distance from others.
  • Use hand sanitizer after touching shared surfaces, like doorknobs and voting machines.
  • Do not touch your face.
  • Bring your own black pen, if your precinct uses them.
  • Review a sample ballot in advance to make your decisions, so you can get in and out of your polling place quickly.
  • Have your identification in hand when you are next in line to speed the process.
  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds when you are finished.

We’re all in this pandemic together, and it’s up to each of us to do our part to reduce the spread, especially on this important day in our country.

The time is now to get your Election Day ducks in a row. Make sure you’re registered, request an absentee ballot if you prefer and identify your correct polling place ahead of time to make your voting experience a smooth one. Do your homework in advance, so you’re ready to confidently cast your vote on Nov. 3 and
ensure your voice is heard.

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