Five days into the 2016 session of the General Assembly, a variety of proposals to expand Virginians’ voting rights are dead on arrival. The ax began falling Tuesday at an early-morning meeting of a House of Delegates subcommittee, where the Republican majority dispatched four voting measures sponsored by Democrats in 35 minutes. Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Arlington County, told the panel his bill, HB68, would “bring Virginia into the 21st century” by allowing universal early voting up to 21 days before a general election. Similar laws are on the books in 32 states, he said. Early voting in Virginia is possible now only by applying for an absentee ballot and stating a specific reason, such as illness or out-of-town travel on Election Day.
Allowing universal early voting would simplify the process and shorten lines at the polls , Sullivan said – a significant factor in a presidential election year. Recent presidential elections have seen hourslong waits to cast ballots in many Virginia localities.
Sullivan’s bill drew support from Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, the League of Women Voters and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Republican Dels. Mark Cole of Spotsylvania County and Steve Landes of Augusta County complained that the proposal would be costly to localities because it would increase the workload in registrars’ offices. A similar measure from Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax County, HB531, was shot down on the same grounds.