Five days into the 2016 session of the General Assembly, a variety of proposals to expand Virginians’ voting rights are dead on arrival.
The ax began falling Tuesday at an early-morning meeting of a House of Delegates subcommittee, where the Republican majority dispatched four voting measures sponsored by Democrats in 35 minutes.
Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington County, told the panel his bill, HB68, would “bring Virginia into the 21st century” by allowing universal early voting up to 21 days before a general election. Similar laws are on the books in 32 states, he said.
Early voting in Virginia is possible now only by applying for an absentee ballot and stating a specific reason, such as illness or out-of-town travel on Election Day.
Allowing universal early voting would simplify the process and shorten lines at the polls , Sullivan said – a significant factor in a presidential election year. Recent presidential elections have seen hourslong waits to cast ballots in many Virginia localities.
Sullivan’s bill drew support from Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Republican Dels. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Steve Landes of Augusta County complained that the proposal would be costly to localities because it would increase the workload in registrars’ offices.
A similar measure from Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax County, HB531, was shot down on the same grounds.
A more limited proposal from Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax County, HB56, would have allowed voters 70 and older to vote by absentee ballot automatically, without giving any of the reasons spelled out in state law. It, too, was defeated on fiscal grounds.
The subcommittee also killed a measure from Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, HB292, that would have allowed young people to preregister at the Department of Motor Vehicles when they get a driver’s license at age 16 so they would be on the rolls when they become eligible to vote at 18.
In recent years, the Republican-controlled Assembly has moved in the opposite direction, tightening the state’s voting procedures by requiring photo identification at the polls.
The issue has largely broken down along party lines. Two Republican delegates, Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach and Danny Marshall of Danville, submitted proposals this year to expand absentee voting but withdrew them before the subcommittee could take them up.
This story was first published on PilotOnline.com