The General Assembly started out Tuesday with a 7 a.m. House of Delegates subcommittee meeting where Republicans passed some election reforms bills, and ended the day in a lengthy Senate committee meeting where Democrats killed seven of Senator Amanda Chase’s (R-Chesterfield) election reform bills. The House Privileges and Elections Subcommittee One heard three bills focused on absentee voting, voter photo identification and voter registration.
Delegate Lee Ware (R-Goochland) introduced House Bill 46, which bundles a voter photo identification requirement with a repeal of Virginia’s permanent absentee voter list, reduces early voting from 45 days to just seven days, and requires ballots received after Election Day to be postmarked at least one day before Election Day.
“These measures provide first an abundant opportunity to exercise the sacred right to vote, while doing due diligence to ensure that the voters who vote are eligible to do so. Many of you know that I spent 32 years in the classroom, and one class that I taught every year was government,” Ware told the subcommittee. “One of the things that I taught every year had to do with provisions regarding voting. We always brought in the local registrar to sign up 18-year-olds to vote, so for me this is absolutely central to who we are as a representative democracy, a republic in the old term. As a society dedicated to liberty and justice for all, we’re duty-bound to protect the vote of every eligible voter. Every eligible voter, from being stolen, or from being diluted by fraudulent ballots. ”
Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) spoke against the bill: “In the autopsy report that the Board of Elections did in the last year, they noted that it was the safest and most secure election we’ve had, and that we’ve done a lot over the last couple years to put our elections on even more solid ground than they already are. And, you know, it strikes me when people say, ‘Put confidence back into the election system,’ the number one way we could do that is if politicians and media figures would just tell the truth about how our elections are safe and secure.”
VanValkenburg said, “This is now an omnibus bill in which Delegate Ware is attempting to roll back a lot of the provisions that we put under law, that put us from being the second-hardest state to vote in to the twelfth-easiest in terms of access, and I know we’re going to have a good-natured fight over that, I think that will probably be a partisan vote. But as another civics teacher, I’m particularly proud that we went from being one of the hardest states into one of the easiest while maintaining our security and the security of the ballot.”
House Bill 544: Opt-In Photo I.D Requirement
Delegate Amanda Batten (R-York) introduced HB 544, which would allow voters to opt-in to a photo identification requirement for themselves. HB 46 and HB 544 are not compatible.
“Now, when you go to register to vote, the default would still be that no photo I.D. is required. However, if you so desire, when you register to vote, you can check a box that says, ‘Please ask for my photo I.D. when I vote,'” Batten said. “That way, folks who have concerns about their identity or want to show their photo I.D. to address possible concerns that maybe someone else would inadvertently vote in their name, or the election officer who was checking off the names there would inadvertently check off their name because photo I.D. was not required, this would simply again allow that voter to opt-in to a system that would require them to show photo I.D.”
Delegate David Reid (D-Loudoun) asked if there would be a fiscal impact. Batten said there would be no impact on the Department of Elections, but was indeterminate on the DMV, and localities would have to figure out how to fit the change into their systems. Reid asked if it could be an unfunded mandate.
Batten said, “Yes, it could be an unfunded mandate on the localities. I’ve spoken with some registrars who were fairly neutral on it, but it would be incumbent on them to incorporate it into the existing system, which also, because the Department of Elections sort of is a top-down system, as far as what data is put in there, there may be some need for collaboration there between the localities and the Department of Elections on the state level.”
House Bill 185: Repeal Same-Day Voter Registration
House Privileges and Elections Committee Chair Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland) introduced HB 185, which repeals a law that allows voters to register to vote in person up to and including Election Day.
“We’ve adopted same-day registration and that is supposed to be implemented October first of 2022. And we’ve had a lot of concerns across the state with the electoral boards and some of the registrars that have come to me and they have not received clear guidance or a program implemented about how this is going to play out. So what this bill would do is repeal that provision and put us back in a place with how the law read before,” Ransone told the subcommittee.
Reid asked for a state Board of Elections representative to comment on their plans.
He said, “I’m assuming if this is going to be implemented on October first, they probably have some plans already in motion, and they could tell us whether or not they’re going to be able to achieve those goals.”
Department of Elections spokesperson Rachel Lawless confirmed that implementation would be done on time. She said, “ELECT has started the planning process to implement this and be in compliance by October.”
After public testimony, Ransone said, “My bill has nothing to do with voter fraud or voter I.D., this bill just wants to make sure that we are making sure that the Department of Elections and our registrars are able to check registration status where the voter lives, and right now, we do not have that system in place.”
All three bills passed out of the subcommittee. If they pass out of other committees and the Republican-controlled House, they will likely face strong resistance in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Amanda Chase” by Amanda Freeman Chase. Photo “Margaret Ransone” by Delegate Margaret Ransone. Photo “Amanda Batten” by Amanda Batten. Photo “Lee Ware” by Delegate Lee Ware. Background “Virginia State Capitol” by Martin Kraft. CC BY-SA 3.0.