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Peter’s Take: Virginia Should Adopt No-Excuse Absentee Voting

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 2019 Virginia legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

Once again, a batch of proposed bills have been submitted which, if enacted, would authorize no-excuse absentee voting in Virginia.

No-excuse absentee voting bills

Some of these no-excuse absentee voting bills have been continued from the 2018 legislative session, e.g., SB 136 submitted by state Sen. Janet Howell (who represents portions of Arlington). Others are new, e.g., HB 1641 submitted by state Del. Charniele Herring..

Virginia should enact a law authorizing no-excuse absentee voting

Like other voting rights issues, Arlington voters only can 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 before Election Day. 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 most important reason why the current system should be changed is that experience in many other states has demonstrated that no-excuse absentee voting enables more legally 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 the Fairfax Area has prepared a helpful checklist of reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting. Those reasons are:

  • All voters should have equal access to the ballot
  • No voter should have to provide personal unrelated information to cast a ballot
  • Voters have found their eligibility to vote before Election Day very confusing
  • Voting absentee in-person is as secure as voting on 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
  • Extra personnel are needed to explain the form and check it for completion before a voter can proceed to checking in
  • Eliminating the use of the application form would speed the voting process considerably

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

Twenty eight states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote absentee without offering an excuse. Those states include so-called “red” states such as South Dakota and Wyoming as well as so-called “blue” states like California and Vermont. Therefore, absentee voting should be a subject on which Virginia Republicans and Virginia Democrats also ought to be able to agree.

Conclusion

No-excuse absentee voting will enable more eligible Virginia voters to vote.

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

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