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A look at the new laws that helped shape Virginia's 2021 elections

The pandemic continues to change and shape the way Virginians vote.

VIRGINIA, USA — Ahead of the high-profile Virginia state elections, the 2021 Virginia General Assembly passed 18 pieces of voter legislation, many of which took effect after July 1. 

These new laws tackle voter access both ahead of and on Election Day: absentee voting, campaigns and campaign finance, candidates and parties, election day procedures, election officers, voter registration and voting rights. 

Here are some of the new notable laws that went into effect this year, and helped shape this year's gubernatorial race. 

Absentee voting: witness signature not required

SB 1097 eliminates the necessity of a witness signature on an absentee ballot. 

A voter's failure to have a witness sign the absentee ballot envelope for any election held during a declared state of emergency related to a communicable disease of public health threat shall not be considered a material omission and shall not render the ballot void.

Absentee voting: early in person, availability on Sundays

HB1968 expands absentee voting in person on Sundays during the early voting period.

Permits the electoral board or general registrar of a county or city to provide absentee voting in person in the office of the general registrar or voter satellite office on Sundays.

Assistance for certain voters, curbside voting

HB1921 expands curbside voting to any voter, regardless of age or physical ability, during a declared state of emergency.

Clarifies that any voter with a permanent physical disability, temporary physical disability, or injury is entitled to vote outside of the polling place.

According to the Department of Elections, curbside voting is "generally" only available for voters 65 years and older, or with a permanent disability.

The bill requires that the area designated for voting outside of the polling place be clearly marked and instructions on how the voter is to notify an officer of election of his request to vote outside of the polling place be prominently displayed.  

Voting Rights Act of Virginia

In what Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called a "landmark" move, Gov. Northam this year approved the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, modeled after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

The bill protects against voter discrimination and intimidation and requires a public comment period over any election changes made at the local level.

Prohibits any voting qualification or any standard, practice, or procedure related to voting from being imposed or applied in a manner that results in the denial or abridgment of the right of any United States citizen to vote based on his race or color or membership in a language minority group.

According to Northam's office, Virginia became the first state in the south to enact its own Voting Rights Act, and was championed by State Senator Jennifer McClellan and Newport News Delegate Marcia Price.

The full slate of new election laws can be found on the Department of Elections website.

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