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REUTHER: Virginia moves forward on voting rights
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REUTHER: Virginia moves forward on voting rights

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Early voting in Culpeper clerk's race

George Carter Marsh (left) checks in with Culpeper County elections officer Andrew Campbell at the Voter Registrar’s Officeat the Culpeper County Voter Registrar’s Office to vote Feb. 12 in the special election for Culpeper Circuit Court clerk.

Voting lies at the heart of our democracy. It is the most fundamental constitutional right of self-government. It is the one right of citizenship that the African American community was denied during Jim Crow. Virginia, unlike other states of the old South, is making every effort under its Democratic-guided legislature to remove obstacles to exercising that right.

In the last two years, Virginia Democrats have repealed decades of voting restrictions imposed by Republicans during their 20 years of legislative dominance. Among them was the requirement to present photo identification at the polls. At Virginia polling places, we have returned to the former legal identification requirements: name and address. The legislature also eliminated the need to cite a specific excuse to vote absentee, a welcome step taken weeks before the coronavirus pandemic. Voting on the Sunday before Election Day is now a possible local option. Small changes make a difference.

In contrast, smarting from high voter turnout in Georgia and a Democratic presidential win backed by a 7 million vote margin, states like Georgia and Texas are throwing up one voter-suppression measure after another. The Georgia law limits ballot drop boxes, makes election oversight more partisan, and prevents individuals from giving food and water to people in line to vote. Texas is on the cusp of passing legislation that would ban extended voting hours, close polling locations in minority neighborhoods, and more.

This year, 45 other states introduced voter-suppression legislation. Voter suppression affects more than local elections; who gets to vote in a state such as Texas, Georgia or Arizona could determine the outcome of a national election.

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The voter-fraud chant is alive and well. Neither the Trump administration’s attorney general nor Republican operatives could present evidence of systemic fraud. Trump’s side filed 40 lawsuits, all of which the courts rejected. Nevertheless, 129 Republican members of Congress voted against certifying the last presidential election, even after they were chased out of the Capitol by the January 6 “Stop the Steal” attack.

It appears Virginia is not out of the woods. The “Lost Cause” myth is being replaced by the “voter fraud” myth. The movement is confined not just to “Trump in heels,” state Sen. Amanda Chase. Other Republican candidates for governor are marching to the same drumbeat. This turn of events could be frustrating to those from both sides who are calling for unity, which requires a consensus on facts.

Every year brings an election to Virginia. While all eyes may be on the statewide races, the House of Delegates races remain crucial to protecting Virginia from following Georgia, Texas and other states down the voter-suppression path. Certainly, if the candidates at the top of the ticket stress a voter-fraud theme, you can expect down-ballot candidates to copy.

During Culpeper’s snap election for clerk of the Circuit Court, I am told some voters challenged poll workers about the vote-counting machines. They were disappointed to find that the vote-counting machines were stand-alone equipment not manufactured by Dominion.

Of course, the humor in all of this is that if Republicans are so convinced that all elections are fraudulent, are their own victories suspect too? And if all elections are a fraud, why are they spending so much money running for office? Even state Del. Nick Freitas, after receiving millions of out-of-state dollars in his recent campaigns, felt he had to raise voter fraud as the cause of his latest defeat.

We should all reject the undemocratic attack on our electoral system, protect everyone’s right to vote, and vote for candidates who seem most competent and least self-serving. An election is a job interview.

David Reuther, a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer, is a past chair of the Culpeper Democratic Committee. These are

his personal observations.

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