Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Political Headlines from across Virginia

September 29, 2020
Top of the News

Virginia GOP says confusion remains on absentee ballot rule

By DENISE LAVOIE, Associated Press

The Republican Party of Virginia says state elections officials have created confusion among voters ahead of the November election by failing to make it clear that a witness signature requirement for absentee voters has been waived. The GOP argues in a motion filed in federal court that the state Board of Elections and Elections Commissioner Christopher Piper have not adhered to the terms of a consent decree that said the state will accept absentee ballots without the signature of a witness for voters who believe they cannot safely have a witness present while completing their ballot.

Roughly 400 local voters receive two ballots; officials say errors won't lead to double votes

By MEL LEONOR, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Ajammed printer used to label absentee ballot packets in Henrico County and a separate rush to get ballots out in time in Richmond resulted in about 400 local voters receiving duplicate ballots in the mail. The duplicate ballots won't lead to anyone being able to vote twice, thanks to a program that records when a registered voter has cast a ballot and prevents them from doing so again, local election officials confirmed Monday.

There's no poll worker shortage here

By TITUS MOHLER, Farmville Herald (Paywall)

Several localities in Virginia have reported seeing a surge in people applying to be Election Day workers, despite initial concerns there would be a shortage. Registrars in Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward report their counties are among those experiencing surges with it looking more likely they will have a surplus of workers come Election Day than a shortfall.

New state coronavirus dashboard includes school-specific metrics

By MATT JONES, Daily Press (Metered Paywall - 1 article a month)

The Virginia Department of Health rolled out new public COVID-19 dashboards Monday that include guidelines for reopening schools, the first time the state has publicly laid out numerical recommendations. The new Pandemics Metrics dashboard is different than the daily dashboard. While the daily dashboard focuses on raw numbers, the new dashboard interprets the information more.

Virginia lawmakers warn of 'deteriorating' conditions in two federal prisons as COVID-19 spreads

By ARIANA FIGUEROA, Virginia Mercury

Members of Virginia's congressional delegation from both political parties are pressing the U.S. Department of Justice's internal watchdogs to include two state correctional facilities in the agency's ongoing inspections during the pandemic. In a Sept. 24 letter to DOJ's Inspector General, the lawmakers raised concerns about unsafe health and safety procedures, COVID-19 outbreaks and shortages of personal protective equipment for staff and incarcerated individuals. The two facilities that lawmakers want included in virtual inspections are the Federal Correctional Complex Petersburg and United States Penitentiary Lee.

Loudoun School Board criticizes proposed Thomas Jefferson admissions changes

By JOHN BATTISTON, Loudoun Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

On behalf of the Loudoun County School Board, Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) penned a letter Saturday to the Fairfax County School Board expressing concern with potential changes to the admissions process at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. During a digital FCSB work session Sept. 15, Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand proposed the following: that the number of Loudoun County Public Schools students be capped at 62 for the coming school year; that students be accepted via a "Merit Lottery;" and that the required grade point average for application be raised to 3.5, while skills testing and cognitive testing be eliminated from the application process.

Portsmouth will let city workers collectively bargain — a first in Hampton Roads

By ANA LEY, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Portsmouth council members have voted unanimously to let city employees bargain collectively for their pay and work conditions through unions, making it the first local government in Hampton Roads to do so under a new state law passed by the Democrat-controlled legislature. The proposal was raised by Mayor John Rowe at the end of a regular meeting on Sept. 22. It was on the agenda under "items submitted by council members," but no one explained which member's idea it was.

The Full Report
38 articles, 17 publications


From VPAP Maps, Timeline of COVID-19 in Virginia

The Virginia Public Access Project

Our COVID-19 dashboard makes it easy to track the latest available data for tests performed, infections, deaths and hospital capacity. There's a filter for each city and county, plus an exclusive per-capita ZIP Code map. Updated each morning around 10:30 a.m.


Northern Virginia business consultant Puneet Ahluwalia announces GOP run for LG

By ANDREW CAIN, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

Puneet Ahluwalia, a Northern Virginia business consultant, has joined the competition for the GOP's lieutenant governor nomination in 2021, campaigning on a message of "hope, growth and opportunity." Ahluwalia, originally from India, consults with businesses on client acquisition, marketing and strategic affairs. His wife, Nadia, originally from Pakistan, owns an IT services firm that supports companies and government agencies. They became U.S. citizens 14 years ago and have three children in college.


More than 13,000 ballots have been cast in Loudoun County

By NATHANIEL CLINE, Loudoun Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

More than 13,000 ballots have already been cast in Loudoun County, and elections officials are clarifying that Virginians voting absentee in the Nov. 3 election do not need a witness signature. Richard Keech, deputy director and deputy registrar for Loudoun County Office of Elections and Voter Registration, said ballots will be counted with or without a witness signature provided the rest of "envelope B" is completed and received by the deadlines.

Some Charlottesville absentee ballot packages mailed without ballots

By STAFF REPORT, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

Some Charlottesville voters who requested mail-in ballots did not receive ballots in their package, according to the city. In a news release, the city said "a small number" of voters in the Johnson, Buford, Venable and Alumni Hall precincts may not have received Envelope A, which contains the actual ballot, due to an error.

Local colleges helping students navigate voting process

By ANNA MEROD, Winchester Star (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

With Virginia's Oct. 13 voter registration deadline just two weeks away, local college students are doing their part to educate their fellow students on the voting process. Although college students have traditionally voted at one of the lowest rates of any demographic group in the country, turnout has been increasing in recent years. Last week, students at Shenandoah University held an in-person voter registration drive, with about 30 students registering as of Thursday.

Despite pandemic, some Virginia registrars report surge of poll workers

By WILL GONZALEZ, VCU Capital News Service

Several places in Virginia say they've seen a surge in people applying to be Election Day-workers, despite initial concerns there would be a shortage. The U.S. is facing a nationwide poll workers shortage, Gov. Ralph Northam said in a Tweet posted in early September urging Virginians to apply for the position. Some districts expected a shortage because they anticipated high turnout. Poll workers fulfill a variety of part-time and full-time roles, from assisting with absentee ballot distribution, answering phone calls, supervising early voting, and helping at the polls on Election Day.


Judicial emergency now slated to extend into November

By NEIL HARVEY, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The statewide judicial emergency, which just passed its six-month anniversary, is now going to see a 10th extension and will remain in place at least until Nov. 1, the Virginia Supreme Court announced Monday. A previous order, issued Sept. 4, had continued the emergency status until Oct. 11. The judicial emergency, a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, enforces expanded precautions against the virus, which include mask requirements and health checklists for visitors as they enter courthouses.


Mountain Valley Pipeline foes file challenge to reissued stream-crossing permits

By LAURENCE HAMMACK, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Foes of the Mountain Valley Pipeline were back in court Monday, before idled construction workers could return to the long-delayed and deeply divisive project. In a petition filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Sierra Club and seven other environmental groups challenged permits reissued last week to allow Mountain Valley to cross nearly 1,000 streams and wetlands along its 303-mile path.

State to allocate $10M in block grants for COVID-19 recovery

By KATE ANDREWS, Va Business Magazine

The state government is earmarking more than $10 million in federally funded Community Development Block Grants (CBDG) for COVID-19 recovery projects across the commonwealth, including some small business assistance funds, Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday. "Our administration remains committed to investing in rural communities during this unprecedented health crisis and as we work to rebuild Virginia's economy," Northam said in a statement.


Virginia athletics department announces 22 new positive COVID-19 tests

By BENNETT CONLIN, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

The University of Virginia athletics department revealed its COVID-19 testing results from Sept. 21-27 on Monday, announcing that it had administered 1,168 tests with 22 positive test results. Since testing began in early July, UVa has administered 4,973 tests with a total of 64 positives. The overall test positivity since testing started sits at 1.3%.

University of Lynchburg, Sweet Briar College report zero active COVID-19 cases among students

By JAMEY CROSS, News & Advance (Metered Paywall - 18 articles a month)

There are zero active cases of COVID-19 among students at the University of Lynchburg and Sweet Briar College, the institutions announced Monday. UL has seen a total of 88 cases of COVID-19 among students and three cases among faculty and staff since classes started on Aug. 12, according to university spokesperson Janika Carey. Less than one week after classes began in online, in-person and hybrid formats, UL saw five cases of COVID-19 among students and moved all classes online.


Virginia COVID-19 cases rise 2,160 over the weekend

By STAFF REPORT, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

The Virginia Department of Health reported Monday that the statewide total for COVID-19 cases is 146,593 — an increase of 2,160 from the 144,433 reported Friday. The 146,593 cases consist of 139,144 confirmed cases and 7,449 probable cases. There are 3,172 COVID-19 deaths in Virginia — 2,962 confirmed and 210 probable. That's an increase of 36 from the 3,136 reported Friday.

Virginia posts new COVID-19 dashboard to help guide local decisionmakers

By LUANNE RIFE, Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The Virginia Department of Health on Monday added to its website a new pandemic dashboard to give local leaders a better grasp of how the coronavirus is acting in their communities. The COVID-19 pandemic metrics provide details on the burden, trend and transmission of the disease by health region, and are paired with a school metrics dashboard that drills down into each school system through the lens of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention metrics.

Virginia Department of Health launches COVID-19 online tools, including one with school metrics

By JESS NOCERA, Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

As more students head back into the classroom, the Virginia Department of Health has launched some new COVID-19 online tools, one of which includes metrics to guide school officials as they make reopening decisions.

VDH recommends schools use CDC metrics in reopening decisions

By KATHERINE KNOTT, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

As area school boards make plans for the second quarter of classes, officials should use recently released federal indicators and thresholds related to the spread of COVID-19, the Virginia Department of Health recommended Monday as officials launched a new data dashboard related to the pandemic. Officials with VDH cautioned, though, that any decision about school programming is a local one and should be made in conjunction with local public health officials.

Some positive and negative tests for COVID-19 after first lady's visit to Fredericksburg area

By ADELE UPHAUS–CONNER AND CATHY DYSON, Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

Fredericksburg-area officials who accompanied Virginia first lady Pamela Northam during her tour of education sites in the area last week have tested negative for COVID-19, although there have been positive cases in the wake of her visit. One person who was present on Northam's tour of Downtown Greens, a community garden in downtown Fredericksburg, tested positive and is in self-quarantine.

Virginia first lady Pam Northam's visit results in quarantine for 5 Prince William County schools' staff

By JILL PALERMO, Prince William Times

Five staff members at Washington-Reid Preschool center, a Prince William County public school, were on quarantine Monday due to Virginia first lady Pam Northam's visit to the school last week. Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday that both he and his wife, Pam, tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Sept. 24.


Caroline youth send a message with a formal approach to protests

By TAFT COGHILL JR., Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

As Zavion Goodall and seven other young Caroline County natives lined up on the courthouse lawn for the "Black Positivity" rally Friday evening, a white man pulled his truck to the side of Main Street in Bowling Green to see what was going on. After the man realized the group was dressed formally in suits, ties and skirts for the two girls, he commented that they looked great and he was glad to see them out there.

IRS wants 205,600 Virginians to know they might be eligible for pandemic stimulus

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

The Internal Revenue Service said Monday that it would be sending mailed letters to 9 million Americans, including 205,600 in Virginia, to remind them to check if they're eligible to receive federal pandemic assistance. The agency is mailing the letters to people who typically don't need to file a federal tax return but may still qualify for an Economic Impact Payment worth up to $1,200 for individuals, up to $2,400 for married couples and up to $500 for each qualifying child.

VA selects Spotsylvania site for veterans clinic

By SCOTT SHENK, Free Lance-Star (Metered Paywall - 10 articles a month)

The battle to attract a new U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic is settled, with Spotsylvania County beating out Fredericksburg and Stafford County. The decision was posted online by the VA on Monday, nearly three years after federal officials began advertising for outpatient clinic space in an area stretching from Stafford to Spotsylvania, mainly along the Interstate 95 corridor.

In Southwest Va., a utility contract hampers school districts' ability to go solar

By SARAH VOGELSONG, Virginia Mercury

With school districts bracing for slashed budgets as the COVID-19 pandemic drags beyond its sixth month, there's one bright spot on the horizon: the sun. No, literally, the sun. In Virginia, 2020 has been a banner year for school solar.


Democratic Precinct Captain Booted for Supporting Independent School Board Candidate


Arlington Democrats have forced out a precinct captain for supporting a School Board candidate who had to withdraw from seeking the party's endorsement because she's a federal employee. Heather Keppler said in an email obtained by ARLnow that she was pressured to step down as the Arlington County Democratic Committee's captain for the Lexington precinct because of her support of Symone Walker, a "lifelong Democrat."

Loudoun supervisors expedite broadband efforts

By NATHANIEL CLINE, Loudoun Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

Three internet service providers, two hotspots, a satellite dish, and paying at least $500 a month is the reality for one parent in western Loudoun County struggling to find reliable connection for her children learning virtually during the COVID-19 crisis. Over the summer, parents realized that their children in Loudoun schools would be learning virtually to start the school year amid the pandemic.

Leesburg Council Sets Legislative Agenda, Without City Status Push


There is a notable omission on the Leesburg Town Council's recently adopted legislative agenda. Each year, the council adopts a list of its priorities for its General Assembly representation to consider, along with a legislative positions statement. Last week, the council adopted its 2021 agenda, and for the first time in five years, it did not include the council's request to lift the moratorium on towns seeking city status.

Richmond City Council Funds Design Process for Slavery Museum


The City of Richmond is one step closer to creating a museum and campus in Shockoe Bottom to memorialize its history as a slave-trading center. Monday night, Richmond City Council approved a transfer of nearly $2 million in tax delinquent property sales to fund the planning and design of the campus.

Stoney Administration Releases Affordable Housing Plans


Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney's administration presented plans to City Council Monday night on increasing access to affordable housing. The 2020 Biennial Real Estate Plan includes a proposal to get rid of more than 132 acres of city-owned property. Under the plan, more than 50 acres would go to the Maggie L. Walker Land Trust and other non profits to develop homes and apartments for low-income residents. Another 83 acres of high-value city-owned land would go up for bid by developers.

Portsmouth NAACP leaders rejected — again — in attempt to file criminal charges against council members

By MARGARET MATRAY, Virginian-Pilot (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

NAACP leaders have been rejected for a second time in an attempt to file criminal charges against two Portsmouth City Council members, alleging they violated the city charter by telling the police chief to charge protesters in vandalism at the Confederate monument in June. The NAACP officials suggested the decision, when a Black council member was charged recently with violating the same charter section, shows a racist double standard at work.

Charlottesville Unitarian congregation votes decidedly to drop Jefferson from name

By STAFF REPORT, Daily Progress (Metered Paywall - 25 articles a month)

Thomas Jefferson is no longer its name. More than 95% of the membership of the Unitarian-Universalist church formerly known as Thomas Jefferson Memorial who voted Sunday chose to drop the name of the native son from the church's moniker. The third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia's troublesome history as a slave owner and his treatment of indigenous people were among the reasons cited.

Thermal scanners installed at courthouse as COVID-19 precaution

By EVAN GOODENOW, Winchester Star (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

The approximately 2,000 people coming through the Joint Judicial Center each day will now have their temperatures taken by thermal scanners to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The scanners were installed on Friday. As courthouse staff and visitors pass through a metal detector, they are now being asked to stand about a foot away from the approximately 5-foot tall, 6-inch wide scanners, also known as non-contact, infrared thermometers. A facial recognition screen then takes their temperature by measuring body heat and announces the temperature within a few seconds. Anyone with a temperature below 100.4 degrees is allowed in.

Pittsylvania County elementary school students returned to in-person classes Monday

By JOHN CRANE, Danville Register & Bee

Elementary schools in Pittsylvania County opened back up for in-person classes Monday. Kids in grades K-3 participated in classroom activities and took in lessons from their teachers in a socially distanced setting. At Gretna Elementary School, Faith Adkins' first-grade class danced and learned about politeness and having consideration for others from music teacher Gary Jack.

End of one of Danville's electric contracts has uncertain effect on customers

By JOHN CRANE, Danville Register & Bee

A contract that provided 17% of Danville's electricity will end this year, and its impact on customers is uncertain. That contract, a 21.5-megawatt power block from Morgan Stanley, was adopted by the city at a trading hub in 2009, around the time of the recession, when electric rates were projected to be higher.



Veteran suicide crisis demands our full attention

By MICHAEL HUDSON AND KEITA M. FRANKLIN, Virginian-Pilot Editorial (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

Veterans are our heroes; our protectors; our fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. And despite the enormous role they play in guaranteeing our collective freedoms, far too many slip through the cracks as they depart the Department of Defense and transition into the Veterans Administration. This is unacceptable, and we owe it to our veterans to find solutions to address this injustice.

Don't omit climate questions from presidential debates

Virginian-Pilot Editorial (Metered Paywall - 2 articles a month)

President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden are expected to clash over a number of issues at tonight's debate, according to a list of topics released last week by moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News. These include the two candidates' records, the Supreme Court, the coronavirus pandemic, election integrity and "race and violence in our cities," all of which should generate friction and create some sparks.

Universities should serve as laboratories for COVID-19 best practices

Richmond Times-Dispatch Editorial (Access to this article limited to subscribers)

Throughout the fall 2020 semester, colleges and universities across the commonwealth and nation have grappled with how to resume schooling while also keeping the coronavirus under control. Much attention has been focused on case outbreaks, behaviors that might drive community spread, and fears and doubts about how higher education can manage residential living and in-person classes amid the pandemic.


PolitiFact: 10 Fact Checks From Trump's Virginia Rally


President Donald Trump made his first 2020 campaign visit to Virginia on Friday, telling several thousand supporters at Newport News/ Williamsburg International Airport that Democrats "will destroy our country." During a 70-minute speech, Trump promised to wage an aggressive campaign in Virginia. He defended his record and excoriated former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee.


Kaine: Why are Republicans Rushing to Fill Justice Ginsburg's Seat?

By TIM KAINE, published in Roanoke Times (Metered Paywall - 5 articles a month)

When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, Senate Republicans announced a new rule for filling a Supreme Court vacancy in a Presidential election year: wait until after the election and let the people decide. They wouldn't meet with Judge Merrick Garland, hold a Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination, or entertain his nomination on the floor. Senate Republicans promised they would follow this new rule in the future whether a President were Democratic or Republican.

Kaine is a U.S. senator from Virginia. He is a Democrat.

Meagher: Stakes are high in local elections

By RICHARD J. MEAGHER, published in Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

The high stakes of the presidential election might be obvious. But if you live in one of the many Virginia jurisdictions with a local election this November, the stakes might be just as high. The twin shocks of 2020 — COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter — only have highlighted the importance of local politics. Mayors and county board members, school superintendents and local health district directors have led our response to the pandemic, while shuttered schools and libraries are appreciated more than ever in their absence.

Eisman: Beware of voting too early

By DALE EISMAN, published in Richmond Times-Dispatch (Metered Paywall - 7 articles a month)

In this most tumultuous election year, there's one thing that Trump supporters and never-Trumpers agree on: The election is the most important of our lifetimes. So why are so many of us rushing into it? Today, exactly five weeks before Election Day, hundreds of thousands of votes across 23 states already have been cast by mail or in-person at early voting centers.

Eisman wrote about Virginia politics and government for more than 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Virginian-Pilot.

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