The constraints of everyday life make it hard for all registered voters to get to the polls on Election Day. Unfortunately, Virginia does not make voting easy, and is the second most difficult state in which to vote. There is much to be done in the Commonwealth to make voting more accessible to all its registered voters.
One way to steer us in the right direction would be passing a true no-excuse absentee voting system. The current system not only is inherently unfair to voters in rural areas and with a lower income but intrudes on their privacy. Under new laws passed in 2019, voters may cast an absentee ballot in person for seven days, beginning on the second Saturday before any election. This new system still requires voters who mail in their absentee ballots to provide one of 20 excuses. The provided excuses someone might identify are publicly available, yet can reveal private information, such as pregnancy status or travel plans. Additionally, by not taking into account unreliable transportation, childcare, juggling multiple jobs with inflexible shifts, and even bad weather, the current system is preventing entire communities from being able to participate in their democracy and elevating one class of voters above others.
All registered voters deserve an equal opportunity to cast their ballot free from excuses, no matter where they live, who they are, or what type of job they have. True no-excuse absentee voting, in person and by mail for a 45-day period before each election, is a real solution that allows all registered voters the same opportunities to cast their ballots. It would also help reduce voter suppression, confusion and long lines on Election Day, while increasing voter participation, especially in low-income and rural communities, by 2-4%.
This system is supported by the state Board of Elections and the Department of Elections, which recently released an Absentee Voting Report recommending to replace excused-based absentee voting with a full 45-day period of no-excuse absentee voting.
As we get ready to start the 2020 legislative session, multiple lawmakers are leading the way to improve voting accessibility. The ACLU of Virginia supports House Bill 1, patroned by Del. Charniele L. Herring, and Senate Bill 45, patroned by Sen. Lionell Spruill. Both bills strike out language that requires registered voters to provide an excuse to vote absentee in-person and by mail.
No-excuse absentee voting works. It is not a novel, untested concept in elections. Voting by no-excuse absentee ballot has been successful in other localities across the country. Adopting a true no-excuse absentee voting would simplify the process, increase voter participation, and help expand Virginians' access to cast their vote they deserve.