Great Ideas from Virginia to Make Voting Easy

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Virginia is leading the way to get fair voting practices in place in their state. This is a great summary of the actions and the impact of the changes.


Virginia:

Democrats in Virginia, who won control of state government last year for the first time in a quarter century, have now used their new majorities to advance a slew of bills to expand voting access and reform how elections work. Below, we'll detail each of these reforms, which include:


Same-day voter registration;Automatic voter registration;No-excuse absentee voting and prepaid postage on mail ballots;Protections for minority voting rights modeled after the Voting Rights Act;Redistricting reform;Loosening the state's voter ID requirement;Joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact;An Election Day holiday;Extending polling hours on Election Day;Letting localities adopt instant-runoff voting for local elections; andRequiring hand-filled paper ballots or machines that print paper ballots.


One major focus of Virginia Democrats' reforms has been making it easier to vote, and to that end, the changes to registration would be among the most consequential. The state House passed a bill that would let voters register on the same day they cast a ballot, including on Election Day, starting in 2022. Democrats in both chambers also passed bills to automatically register voters who conduct business with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they opt out.


Additionally, Democrats in the House and Senate passed bills to remove the excuse requirement to vote an absentee ballot either by mail or in-person, which could make it much easier to vote before Election Day since Virginia still does not offer early voting.

Relatedly, House Democrats passed a bill that would have the state prepay the cost of postage on mail ballots, which would make voting even more convenient by saving voters a trip to the post office. Lastly on the absentee ballot front, the state House unanimously passed a bill requiring officials to count absentee ballots that arrive up until noon three days after Election Day so long as they are postmarked by Election Day.


For those voting on Election Day itself, the state House passed a bill to extend the state's poll closing time from 7 PM local time to 8 PM. Democrats also passed bills in both chambers to replace a holiday honoring Confederate generals with one making Election Day a state holiday. While this Election Day holiday is intended to increase voting access, it could have the unintended consequence of making voting harder for certain groups or creating economic burdens unrelated to voting.


House Democrats and a few Republicans also passed a bill to create a state-level equivalent of the Voting Rights Act. The legislation would impose a requirement that all localities in the state "preclear" any proposed changes to election rules or procedures with either the state attorney general (currently Democrat Mark Herring) or with the state Court of Appeals to ensure that they do not discriminate against any racial, ethnic, or language minority. Before it was gutted in an infamous 2013 Supreme Court ruling, the federal Voting Rights Act imposed preclearance requirements on a swath of states and localities with a history of discriminatory voting laws, including Virginia.


Democrats also turned their attention to rolling back voting restrictions that Republicans had enacted over the last last decade by replacing the GOP's requirement that voters present a photo ID to vote. Instead, both chambers passed bills to allow non-photo IDs, such as a bank statement or utility bill, and if voters lack such an ID, they can sign a sworn statement attesting to their identity under penalty of felony. House Democrats also passed another measure allowing certain out-of-state college IDs to count for the voter ID requirement so long as they contain a photo. All in-state IDs would be valid.