Attorney General Offers Proposals To Make Voting Easier, Laws Clearer

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 17, 2008

RICHMOND, Dec. 16 -- Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell unveiled a package of election reform proposals Tuesday aimed at reducing long lines at polls, adding workers to count ballots and improving voter registration lists.

McDonnell, the Republican nominee for governor next year, and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) have also indicated that they will back legislative proposals to allow voters to receive absentee ballots faster and eliminate inconsistencies between state and federal law on absentee ballots.

"Democracy is alive and well in Virginia. We saw that clearly this past Election Day, with a record number of first-time voters,'' McDonnell said. "However, for our democratic process to stay healthy, we must constantly seek prudent reforms and improvements based on what we learn each election."

State legislators would have to introduce and approve McDonnell's proposals. The General Assembly will return to the state Capitol on Jan. 14 for its annual session.

In Virginia, where the presidential campaigns invested considerable energy getting out the vote this year, there was a surge in the number of registered voters and the number of those who cast ballots.

The state added 500,000 registered voters this year and had a 72 percent turnout, up slightly from 2004. About 10 percent of the ballots cast this year were absentee.

McDonnell told reporters that he has discussed his eight proposals with state election officials who are "generally supportive" of his efforts to hold "better elections with less hassle for the voters and more clarity in the law."

He proposed increasing the number of voting precincts to handle increased turnout. He wants to write guidelines to improve the accuracy of voter registration lists, to ensure that residents, including college students, are not registered in more than one place. And he is looking to overturn a ban on wearing political clothing in a polling place.

Last week, three free speech groups sued the state, challenging a Board of Elections policy that prohibited voters from wearing buttons and clothes with political messages at polling places.

"For a voter, for instance, to wear a button or T-shirt isn't a violation of the law," McDonnell said. "If you're going to a football game, you ought to be able to wear the T-shirt of your team."

Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax) and other legislators said they will submit bills to allow Virginians to vote early with no excuses needed.

More than 30 states allow voting early either in person or by mail.

McDonnell said that early voting is not on his list of proposals but that he would support legislators exploring the issue.

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