Facing South

Voting Rights: Virginia governor pushes for "no-excuse" early voting

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8.jpgVirginia Gov. Tim Kaine proposed legislation Wednesday to allow for no-excuse, in-person absentee voting in Virginia as a way to reduce long lines at polls and make voting more convenient.

In our voting rights coverage, Facing South has reported on the necessity of removing restrictions on early voting in order to cut down on Election Day logjams and open up the ballot box to more eligible citizens.

Gov. Kaine's proposal would allow qualified voters to cast absentee ballots in person at their registrar's office during a 45-day period without having to provide an excuse or reason. Virginia law currently requires any absentee voter to meet one of 17 requirements - such as being disabled, ill or pregnant; being out of town on Election Day; caring for an ill family member; or having a workday plus commute that totals more than 11 hours - in order to vote absentee by mail or in person.

During the 2008 election there was a surge in the number of registered voters and the number of people who cast ballots in Virginia. More than 320,000 voters cast absentee ballots in person. But on Election Day some people stood in line for six hours in parts of Virginia. Kaine and supporters of expanded early voting underscore that there would have been shorter lines and more people casting early ballots if Virginia didn't require voters to give a reason why they wouldn't be able to vote on Election Day itself.

"The tradition of voting in person on that Tuesday in November as it was established 200 years ago made a lot of sense then, but the historical reasons that we have elections in that way don't necessarily hold up so completely today," Kaine said at a news conference. Kaine underscored that the new legislation would "remove some of the practical barriers that prevent people from participating in the democratic process."

Kaine also pointed out that majority of states have some form of excuse-free absentee voting or early voting. He and other backers of the legislation hope that giving people a way to vote early will increase voter participation. The law change would also expect to save localities money because they would face smaller crowds on Election Day and would not have to use additional equipment or hire more workers, reports the Washington Post.

"Many people cannot take time off on a weekday to stand in line to vote, their jobs and schedules won't allow it. By implementing no-excuse, in-person absentee throughout Virginia we can face the reality that we live in a busy world and not everyone has the luxury of voting in person on a Tuesday," Olga Hernandez, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, said in a press release. "When voters realized last fall that they may be eligible for absentee voting, they took advantage of it in great numbers and no problems were encountered that could not be resolved as long as they were duly registered."

Twenty-six other states allow voters some period in which to cast a vote in advance without stating a reason, according to Kaine's office.

Through our voting rights coverage, Facing South found that expanded early voting is one of the major success stories to come out of the 2008 election. At least 30 percent of all ballots counted on Election Day came days, weeks or even a month early in the states that allow some form of early voting. Early voting resulted in greater participation, providing people with more options to cast their ballots and relieving congestion at the polls on Election Day. States that allowed voting experienced fewer delays and problems and lines were shorter on Election Day in battleground states with early voting.

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