The start of the 2017 Virginia legislative session has brought with it a batch of proposed bills relating to voting rights.
Many of these bills address issues that have been raised in the recent past, and have — rightly or wrongly — provoked hyper-partisan arguments between Democratic and Republican legislators and governors. Well-known examples include bills on voter ID requirements and re-enfranchisement of convicted felons who have served their sentences.
After the passionate arguments on both sides have been made, it won’t be surprising if the current law on issues like those specified above remains the same after the 2017 Virginia legislative session ends.
Both Democrats and Republicans should support no excuse absentee voting
No excuse absentee voting has been enacted by a majority of U.S. states — both “red states” and “blue states.” You can see which states have adopted no excuse absentee voting here.
Like other voting rights issues, Arlington voters could only obtain the right to no excuse absentee voting if that right is enacted at the state level because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state.
Virginia has developed a series of 15 narrowly-defined “excuses” that entitle voters to vote absentee. Unless your reason for wanting to vote absentee fits squarely within one or more of the 15 categories on the authorized list, you can’t vote absentee. Review the 15 categories here.
No excuse absentee voting is good for Virginia
Virginia’s current system should be changed. It should be replaced by a system that permits any qualified voter to vote absentee without first having to provide any excuses.
The bedrock reason why the current system should be changed is that experience in other states has demonstrated that no excuse absentee voting offers a greater number of qualified voters the opportunity to choose their elected officials. The broader the base on which our political leadership rests, the more likely that decisions made by our leaders will be respected.
Opponents of the no excuse system have argued that it encourages too many voters to vote too early, thereby foreclosing their opportunity to vote based on late-breaking developments in a political campaign. There is no question that some voters experience such regrets some of the time. Weighing this risk against the depression of voter turnout under the current system, the benefits of providing greater opportunities to vote outweigh the risks that some voters might regret that they voted too early.
Virginia 2017 legislative status
Del. Betsy Carr of Richmond is sponsoring HB 1935, to establish no-excuse, in-person absentee voting in Virginia. However, at least at this writing, no legislation has been introduced to establish no excuse, absentee voting by mail.
The Virginia ACLU properly has pointed out the reasons why no excuse, absentee voting by mail also should be approved for Virginia’s voters:
If Virginia law limits no-excuse absentee voting to in-person only, qualified voters may be excluded from participating based upon a lack of readily accessible transportation, geography, income status, physical disabilities, and the constraints of modern-day individuals and families.
No excuse absentee voting should be a subject on which Virginia Republicans and Democrats can agree. No excuse absentee voting will enable more Virginians to vote. The patchwork quilt of 15 authorized excuses that we have now should be replaced by: no excuses necessary.