The Virginia House of Delegates passed a voting reform bill on Tuesday. Key provisions of HB 1888 require ballot drop boxes in all localities, allow voters to “cure” or fix errors on their own absentee ballots, and require elections officials to begin processing absentee ballots before Election Day. Additionally, it requires localities to provide ballot marking tools and screen reader assistance technology for visually impaired voters.
Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) introduced the bill. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed, he said the bill is focused on making elections accessible and secure.
“Even if we never face another pandemic in our lifetime, the election reinforced how much easier and more effective it is to allow people to vote early and by mail,” he wrote. “Further, the 2020 election also showed how important transparency and security are in the voting process. The clearer the process is to the public, the harder it is for people to cast doubt on a legitimate election outcome.”
The bill requires that early in-person votes must be counted separately from other absentee votes.
The bill was opposed by House Republicans. Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) told The Virginia Star, “Bottom line is there were some good things in the bill to assist disabled people. But they also took out some common sense components that prevent fraud.”
Ballot drop off boxes were criticized by Republicans when they were temporarily introduced in 2020, and in other states, Republicans worried about the chain of custody and security of votes cast in drop boxes in the general election.
The House also unanimously passed VanValkenburg’s HB 1810, which allows the governor to extend the voter registration deadline if the online registration system fails, which happened on the last day of registration in 2020. The bill authorizes the governor to extend the deadline for the same amount of time that the outage occurs, rounding up to one full day.
“This past election you may have seen the news that our voter registration system went offline on the last day people could register because a fiber was cut near a data center in Chester,” VanValkenburg said on Facebook. “In order to extend the deadline, groups had to take the state to court because there is no process to extend it under current law. Therefore, to get an extension citizens had to go through the judicial process.”
He added, “HB 1810 would simply allow the Governor to extend the registration deadline up to the amount of time the system was offline – rounded to the nearest whole day – to ensure people have the opportunity to register. Everybody that wants to vote should be able to!”
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