At a presentation hosted by SALT [Social Action Linking Together) on March 22, more than 50 community activists gathered to hear local legislators offer brief comments on social progress in the Commonwealth of Virginia’s 2014 General Assembly session. The presentation was hosted at American Legion 180.
State senators Janet Howell (D-32), Barbara Favola (D-31) and Dick Saslaw (D-35), and state delegates Mark Keam (D-35), Ken Plum (D-36), David Bulova (D-37), Alfonzo Lopez D-49), Marcus Simon (D-53), and Patrick Hope sat on the panel.
LEGISLATORS ON THE PANEL, all Democrats, were invited to speak for five minutes each on bills and issues confronting the General Assembly and the Commonwealth. Few had time to get past introductory remarks and few details on the General Assembly emerged.
Keam, however, addressed a problem confronted by military personnel not deployed overseas when submitting absentee ballots. Keam’s House Bill 838 would address an inconsistency in the policies followed by the Virginia State Board of Elections. Because of differences in various federal and state election laws, absentee ballots mailed in from overseas by U.S. military men and women are accepted by election officials even if the inside envelope that contains the ballot is not fully sealed.
“On the other hand, an absentee ballot mailed from within Virginia with the same imperfection on the inside envelope is rejected by election officials,” Keam said. “My bill would make the process consistent for all absentee ballots, regardless of from where they were mailed.
“My bill passed both the House and Senate with little opposition, which is pleasantly surprising since this is one of the very few bills introduced by a Democrat to allow more votes to be counted, that has passed the conservative Republican House of Delegates.”
Http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?141+sum+HB838 includes the language which, essentially, states that an absentee ballot will not be voided solely because the inner envelope containing the voted ballot is imperfectly sealed so long as the outside envelope containing the ballot envelope is sealed, Keam said.
KEYNOTE SPEAKER Richard E. Rubenstein, professor of conflict resolution and public affairs at George Mason University, spoke on the need for “game-changing” ideas to resolve income inequality in Virginia, suggesting that university researchers come together statewide to brainstorm ideas that address the issue. He recommended, also, a state commission addressing the causes of poverty.
“This legislative session created a new opportunity for people to take a fresh look at issues that have been pending for a long time, such as income inequality and what the state is doing on behalf of vulnerable citizens,” Keam said in a subsequent phone conversation. “However, these issues ended up with the same resutl this year because of the same partisan agenda that stalled things in years past.”
The morning presentation was co-sponsored by SALT, Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty [VADP}, Citizens United for Rehabilitatioin for Errants –VA [CURE], and Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations [VACOLAO].