SENATE DEMS SPEAK OUT ON ELECTORAL FAIRNESS
RICHMOND - This afternoon, in a three-hour meeting of the Senate Privileges and Elections committee, Democrats presented a number of bills to make it easier for citizens of the Commonwealth to exercise their constitutional right to vote, while their Republican colleagues fixated on erecting barriers to the ballot box. Unfortunately, many of these obstructive bills now make their way to the Senate Floor.
Said Senator Monty Mason (D-Williamsburg), "Senior citizens should be able to avoid long lines on election day by voting absentee in-person ahead of time. There is no reason to make senior citizens stand in line for 3, 4, 5 hours sometimes - simply to exercise their constitutional rights. The same goes for caregivers, trying to juggle the responsibility of caring for young children or an elderly parent. We need to be focusing on how we can expand absentee voting opportunities to ensure equal voting access so that all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote and have their say."
Said Senator Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), "Voter registration drives are an important piece of the civic process. We ought to be encouraging civic engagement, not discouraging it. Requiring people to register with the SBE before they can go out and register their friends, neighbors, colleagues, or classmates -- it is an unnecessary bureaucratic step that creates more work for the already underfunded State Board of Elections and that deters civic engagement. Meanwhile, my Republican colleague are championing striking people from the voter rolls arbitrarily."
Said Senator Jennifer Wexton (D-Loudoun), "You're more likely to be hit by lightning than encounter voter fraud. Voter identification requirements disproportionately exclude younger voters, the elderly, and minorities from voting, and that's unacceptable. While my Democratic colleagues and I are trying to tear down barriers to participation, our Republican counterparts are actively working to erect them."
BACKGROUND: A summary of bills (not an exhaustive list) -- Democratic bills to expand voting rights & Republican bills to restrict voting rights that came up in the committee meeting
Senate Democrats proposed a number of bills that would have expanded absentee vote opportunities. Examples include Senator Ebbin's SB792 (entitling Virginians 65 and older to vote absentee), Senator Wexton's SB827 (entitling Virginians 70 and older to vote absentee), Senator Spruill's SB882 (abolishing the need to provide an excuse in order to vote absentee), Senator Barker's SB1016 (entitling Virginians 65 and older to vote absentee), and Senator Mason's 1131 (expanding the excuses for absentee voting). This efforts were all killed. Meanwhile, Senator Chase's SB872 (requiring absentee voters to provide photo identification along with their mail-in ballot) passed on a party-line vote.
On third-party voter registration efforts, Senator Chase's SB871 requiring any individual wishing to engage in voter registration activities to go through an extensive, bureaucratic process of registering with the State Board of Elections. The bill was reported and referred to Finance on a party-line vote.
Bills addressing voter identification included an attempt by Senator Lewis, SB1200, to repeal photo identification requirements. Senator Wexton's SB826 aimed to expand the list of accepted forms of identification. Both bills were killed by the committee.
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