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Peter’s Take: Support No-Excuse Absentee Voting in Virginia

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The 2018 Virginia legislative session again has featured a batch of proposed bills relating to voting rights.

Several of those bills relate to no-excuse absentee voting.

No-excuse absentee voting bills

HB 1072 was co-sponsored by Arlington Delegate Patrick Hope and 15 others. The bill would have erased the current extensive and complicated list limiting the reasons (excuses) entitling a registered voter to vote absentee. But, this bill was sidelined on January 30 by a 4 to 2 vote in a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee.

Also on January 30, one Virginia Senate no-excuse absentee voting bill, SB 254, was deferred until 2019 by a unanimous vote of a Senate committee. Another Senate bill, SB114, met the same fate.

Virginia should enact a law authorizing no-excuse absentee voting

Like other voting rights issues, Arlington voters can 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 16 narrow, but often confusing and overlapping, excuses that entitle registered voters to vote absentee. Unless your reason for wanting to vote absentee fits squarely within one or more of the 16 categories on the authorized list you can’t vote absentee.

Virginia’s current system should be changed. It should be replaced by a system that permits any registered voter to vote absentee without having to provide any excuse.

Reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting

The bedrock reason why the current system should be changed is that experience in other states has demonstrated that no-excuse absentee voting enables more registered voters to vote 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.

The League of Women Voters of Virginia recently has prepared a helpful checklist of reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting, including these:

  • No voter should have to provide personal unrelated information to cast a ballot
  • Extra personnel are needed to explain the current excuses
  • Voters have found it very confusing to determine what the current excuses mean, and therefore their eligibility to vote before Election Day
  • Local Election Offices have had success in reducing long lines on Election Day by encouraging absentee voting
  • For voting absentee in-person, eliminating the cumbersome process of completing the absentee application would save time as well as the expense of printing the form

Opponents of a no-excuse absentee voting system have argued that it encourages too many more voters to vote too early, thereby foreclosing their opportunity to vote based on late-breaking developments in a political campaign. Weighing this risk against the depression of voter turnout under the current system, the benefits of providing more opportunities to vote outweigh the risks that some voters might regret that they voted too early.

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.”

Conclusion

No-excuse absentee voting should be a subject on which Virginia Republicans and Virginia Democrats can agree. No-excuse absentee voting will enable more Virginians to vote.

The current patchwork quilt of 16 authorized excuses should be replaced by: no excuses necessary.

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