OPINION — New voting laws to bring more people to the polls
In four weeks, Virginians will return to the polls for primary contests, including the statewide races for the Democratic ticket for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
On June 8, you have a chance to make your voice heard, and I hope you get out and vote.
With the election on the horizon, I am reminded of all that we accomplished during the 2021 session. I have the honor of chairing the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections. The General Assembly passed a number of bills to make our elections system more fair, secure and accessible, and I wanted to highlight a few that will take effect this year.
SB 1395 / HB 1890, commonly referred to as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, prohibits discrimination in the administration of our elections. The text of the bill speaks for itself:
“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by the state or any locality in a manner that results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote based on race or color or membership in a language minority group.”
SB 1245 is my own bill to standardize and strengthen Virginia’s absentee voting system. First, it makes ballot drop boxes that many of us used in 2020 permanent. Second, it requires precincts to pre-process absentee ballots before Election Day, which will help speed up the ballot count process once the polls close. Third, it allows voters to cure their absentee ballots – for example, if they write down the wrong address – to ensure their votes count. Virginia is joining 18 other states that allow voters to cure their absentee ballots, from Arizona and Utah to New Jersey and Massachusetts.
SJ 272 / HJ 555 is a resolution to amend the constitution of Virginia to restore voting rights to former felons after they complete their sentences. The sentencing project estimates that 5.17 million Americans have been disenfranchised because of felony convictions as of 2020. Former felons should be able to participate in our democracy like other citizens in good standing. The General Assembly will need to approve this amendment again in 2022. At that point, it will go before the voters in November 2022.
HB 2125 allows young Virginians to pre-register to vote at the DMV when they get their first driver’s license. Of course, they still won’t be able to cast a ballot until they are 18, but their registration will automatically become valid when they are eligible to vote.
HB 1810 will allow the governor to extend the voter registration period in the case of a system-wide failure. This actually occurred in Virginia in 2020 – a cable was cut during a utilities project in Chesterfield County, causing Virginia’s voter registration portal to go down for six hours on the last day of registration. This bill allows for a delay of the amount of time of the outage, rounded up to the nearest day, plus a day for voter education.
HB 1921 guarantees the right to curbside voting for any voter with a permanent physical disability, temporary physical disability or injury. Curbside voting is already a common practice across Virginia. This bill puts that protection into law.
HB 1968 allows localities the option of providing in-person early voting on Sundays.
SB 1331 requires accessibility technology for voters with disabilities to be in place at all polling places.
Virginia saw record high voter turnout last year. More than 4.4 million Virginians cast ballots in 2020, the most ever, and 81.48% of registered Virginians voted, the highest figure since 1992.
I am proud of the work we have done in the General Assembly to create a voting system that gives all Virginians the opportunity to safely participate.
Creigh Deeds is a Virginia State Senator in the 25th District where he has served since 2001. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.