Spreading the vote throughout Fluvanna

Spreading the vote throughout Fluvanna

By Heather Michon, correspondent

With a little over three months to go before Virginians return to the voting booth, a new organization dedicated to voter registration and participation is opening a Fluvanna County chapter.

Cristelle Brown, Virginia state director for Spread the Vote, met with about a dozen potential volunteers at Carysbrook Monday (July 16) to explain the organization’s mission.

Spread the Vote was established in 2017 to help people in states with strong voter ID laws obtain the documentation they need to vote.

In Virginia, one of five states where Spread the Vote currently has chapters, this means a government-issued photo ID.

Photo ID laws are popular because they theoretically cut down on in-person voter fraud on election days.

However, most studies have shown that in-person fraud is incredibly rare. In 2016, for example, researchers found only four instances of this type of fraud – out of 129 million ballots cast.

Critics say photo ID laws disproportionately impact people of color, people in rural areas, and the elderly. With about 21 million voting-age Americans lacking government IDs, about 11 percent of electorate is essentially disenfranchised.

That’s where Spread the Vote comes in, Brown explained. Volunteers are tasked with helping clients obtain whatever they need to get that vital ID card.

Depending on the situation, that can mean helping a client get a copy of their birth certificate or Social Security card, or driving a Fluvanna client into the Charlottesville Department of Motor Vehicles so they can physically apply for an ID.

In 2016, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to convicted felons who had completed their sentences and probation. Brown said many people with past felony convictions didn’t know they could now register to vote, while others had run into roadblocks in obtaining the paperwork needed to prove they had served their sentences and paid fines.

Volunteers also help people register to vote in their local jurisdictions, and may even drive them to the polls on Election Day.

“We are nonpartisan,” Brown said. “We just want everyone to participate in our democracy.”

And, she added, photo IDs are useful for people well beyond the voting booth. “We’ve found it just helps people lead their lives,” said Brown, allowing them to secure jobs, apply for housing, and access services. Chapters often partner with churches, schools, and other social outreach groups to find clients in need.

While the big push at the moment is to get people registered by the Oct. 15 deadline for the 2018 midterm elections, Spread the Vote will continue until every American has what they need to be able to participate. “We’re trying to work ourselves out of business,” Brown said.

Volunteer training will start in August. Anyone who is interested in joining can contact Brown at cristelle@spreadthevote.org.

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