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Virginia Senate panel kills absentee voting bill

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A Senate committee has shot down a bill to allow any Virginia voter to cast an absentee ballot, but it advanced legislation permitting voters age 65 and older to do so.

The Senate’s Committee on Privileges and Elections on Wednesday rejected a measure brought by Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) that would have created “no excuse” absentee voting for all voters. Currently, Virginians are allowed to vote absentee only if they cannot get to the polls on Election Day for certain reasons, such as military service or jury duty.

“In November there were long lines that kept polling places open even past eleven at night,” Howell said in a written statement. “If there were fewer people who needed to vote on Election Day, because more had been able to vote early, I’m sure we would see shorter wait times at the polls.”

The measure failed in a 7-8 vote that fell strictly along party lines, with Democrats in favor of the bill and Republicans opposed.

But the committee combined and advanced two separate bills proposed by Sen. John Miller (D-Newport News) and Sen. Jeffrey L. McWaters (R-Virginia Beach), that would allow anyone age 65 and older to vote absentee.

Legislators, who battled over voter ID requirements in last year’s General Assembly session, have filed dozens of bills this year related to voting procedures and rights. Republican-sponsored measures are generally aimed at tightening voting procedures and Democratic-backed ones are largely intent on liberalizing them.

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