Code of Virginia

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Code of Virginia
Title 24.2. Elections
Chapter 1.1. Rights of Voters
9/26/2021

§ 24.2-129. Covered practices; actions required prior to enactment or administration. (2021 updated section)

A. For the purposes of this section:

"Certification of no objection" means a certification issued by the Attorney General that there is no objection to the enactment or administration of a covered practice by a locality because the covered practice neither has the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote based on race or color or membership in a language minority group nor will result in the retrogression in the position of members of a racial or ethnic group with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.

"Covered practice" means:

1. Any change to the method of election of members of a governing body or an elected school board by adding seats elected at large or by converting one or more seats elected from a single-member district to one or more at-large seats or seats from a multi-member district;

2. Any change, or series of changes within a 12-month period, to the boundaries of the locality that reduces by more than five percentage points the proportion of the locality's voting age population that is composed of members of a single racial or language minority group, as determined by the most recent American Community Survey data;

3. Any change to the boundaries of election districts or wards in the locality, including changes made pursuant to a decennial redistricting measure;

4. Any change that restricts the ability of any person to provide interpreter services to voters in any language other than English or that limits or impairs the creation or distribution of voting or election materials in any language other than English; or

5. Any change that reduces the number of or consolidates or relocates polling places in the locality, except where permitted by law in the event of an emergency.

"Voting age population" means the resident population of persons who are 18 years of age or older, as determined by the most recent American Community Survey data available at the time any change to a covered practice is published pursuant to subsection B.

B. Prior to enacting or seeking to administer any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or any standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting, that is a covered practice, the governing body shall cause to be published on the official website for the locality the proposed covered practice and general notice of opportunity for public comment on the proposed covered practice. The governing body shall also publicize the notice through press releases and such other media as will best serve the purpose and subject involved. Such notice shall be made at least 45 days in advance of the last date prescribed in the notice for public comment.

Public comment shall be accepted for a period of no fewer than 30 days. During this period, the governing body shall afford interested persons an opportunity to submit data, views, and arguments in writing by mail, fax, or email, or through an online public comment forum on the official website for the locality if one has been established. The governing body shall conduct at least one public hearing during this period to receive public comment on the proposed covered practice.

The governing body may make changes to the proposed covered practice in response to public comment received. If doing so, the revised covered practice shall be published and public comment shall be accepted in accordance with this subsection, except the public comment period shall be no fewer than 15 days.

C. Following the public comment period or periods prescribed in subsection B, the governing body shall publish the final covered practice, which shall include a plain English description of the practice and the text of an ordinance giving effect to the practice, maps of proposed boundary changes, or other relevant materials, and notice that the covered practice will take effect in 30 days. During this 30-day waiting period, any person who will be subject to or affected by the covered practice may challenge in the circuit court of the locality where the covered practice is to be implemented the covered practice as (i) having the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race or color or membership in a language minority group or (ii) resulting in the retrogression in the position of members of a racial or ethnic group with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise. In such action, the court may, in its discretion, allow a private plaintiff a reasonable attorney fee as part of the costs, if such plaintiff is the prevailing party.

D. The governing body of a locality seeking to administer or implement a covered practice, in lieu of following the provisions of subsections B and C, may submit the proposed covered practice to the Office of the Attorney General for issuance of a certification of no objection. Such practice shall not be given effect until the Attorney General has issued such certification. A certification of no objection shall be deemed to have been issued if the Attorney General does not interpose an objection within 60 days of the governing body's submission or if, upon good cause shown and to facilitate an expedited approval within 60 days of the governing body's submission, the Attorney General has affirmatively indicated that no such objection will be made. An affirmative indication by the Attorney General that no objection will be made or the absence of an objection to the covered practice by the Attorney General shall not bar a subsequent action to enjoin enforcement of such qualification, prerequisite, standard, practice, or procedure.

2021, Sp. Sess. I, cc. 528, 533.