House of Delegates Rejects Election Reforms

~ Measures to create fair districts and increase ballot access defeated in subcommittee ~


RICHMOND—The House of Delegates has rejected reforms to simplify absentee voting and create fair representative districts in a 7am meeting of its Elections subcommittee. Senator R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County) sponsored SB173 which would have created a seven-member bipartisan commission to redraw districts for the House of Delegates, Senate of Virginia, and U.S. House of Representatives following the 2010 census. Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) sponsoredSB83 which would have allowed qualified voters to cast an absentee ballot in person without providing an excuse or reason they cannot vote on Election Day. Both bills passed the Senate with broad support but were defeated on an unrecorded voice vote in the House subcommittee and will not be heard by the full committee.

Under current law politicians are empowered to draw their own districts every ten years following the census. This process often results in majority parties drawing districts that protect incumbents and discourage competition. Sen. Deeds’ redistricting bill would have created the Bipartisan Redistricting Commission to create more fair and competitive districts. The bill passed the Senate unanimously.

“Redistricting ought to produce competitive, contiguous districts that keep communities of interest together. Right now elected officials choose their constituents and that is patently unfair.” said Senator Deeds. “I regret that the House failed to see the wisdom of the measure.”

If Senator Howell’s SB83 had become law, Virginia would have joined 32 other states that allow no excuse in person absentee voting. Virginia voters are currently required to meet one of a series of excuses in order to vote absentee in person or by mail. SB83 would have removed the requirement of an excuse for those wishing to vote absentee in person. Individuals wishing to vote absentee by mail would still be required to meet one of the statutory excuses. In the 2008 presidential election, over 323,000 Virginians voted absentee in person. Senator Howell’s bill passed the Senate 29-10.

            “It’s unfortunate the House refuses to make it more convenient for citizens who want to vote,” said Sen. Janet Howell. “This would have simplified the process and eliminated unnecessary hoops for people who want to exercise their rights.”

The House Elections sub-committee previously rejected SB139 from Sen. John Miller (D-Newport News), which would have allowed any qualified voter age 65 or older to vote by absentee ballot. Despite passing the Senate of Virginia 34-6, it also was rejected on a voice vote last week.

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