Democratic hopes of no-excuse absentee voting were dashed Tuesday as committees in the House of Delegates and the Senate killed the measures on party-line votes. In order to cast an absentee ballot in Virginia, voters must have one of 11 reasons. Democrats and one Republican – Del. Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach – argued that no-excuse absentee voting would help cut down on long lines at the polls on Election Day and offer greater access to the ballot box. “I have two of the most higher voter turnout precincts in Virginia Beach and one in Chesapeake,” Villanueva told the House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee on Elections. “Average wait times were over four hours. We feel this bill will would make the process more efficient and allow greater voter turnout.”
But Williamsburg voter registrar Win Sowder said allowing for no-excuse absentee voting would overburden her office, which she said is small and offers no public parking. “It’s not that we don’t want to do it,” Sowder said. “But I don’t know where we’d get the money to staff our office.”
Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, who sits on the subcommittee, said it was “depressing” that registrars offices like Williamsburg’s would argue that greater voter access would cost too much. “This is a system that is creaky and old fashioned,” Sickles said. “We need to pass this bill.”
The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee killed a measure put forward by Sen. Janet Howell that wouled allow people to vote absentee in person without an excuse, but kept the absentee qualifications in place for voters who mail in absentee ballots. “The Republican efforts to keep voting down continue,” Howell said.
Both the House and the Senate panels approved measures to add being age 65 or older to the list of acceptable reasons to vote absentee.