Kaine Pushes Expansion of In-Person Early Voting

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009

RICHMOND, Jan. 7 -- Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine called on legislators Wednesday to support no-excuse, in-person absentee voting in Virginia as a way to reduce long lines at polls and make voting more convenient.

The proposal would allow qualified voters to cast absentee ballots in person at their registrar's office during a 45-day period without having to provide an excuse or reason.

"It's time Virginia joined the majority of states in this very practical, common-sense legislation to ensure that we don't leave any voter without the opportunity to have their voice heard in important elections,'' Kaine (D) said.

The proposal is expected to save localities money because they would face smaller crowds on Election Day and would not have to use additional equipment or hire more workers.

Currently, the state requires voters to provide one of 17 reasons to qualify for an absentee ballot, including being disabled, ill, pregnant or out of town on Election Day. Under the proposal, those wishing to vote absentee by mail would still be required to meet one of the requirements.

"This expansion of absentee voting recognizes the realities of citizens' busy lives and gives them more opportunity to engage in their civic duty,'' said Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), who will introduce the bill in the Senate.

Virginia would join 26 other states in offering no-excuse alternative voting. The change has the support of the Virginia Electoral Board Association, the League of Women Voters and the Voter Registrars Association of Virginia.

Similar proposals have received bipartisan support in recent years in the Senate but failed in the Republican-controlled House.

House Republican staff members quickly sent out an e-mail to reporters after Kaine's news conference outlining reasons why early voting does not help turnout and may hurt it. Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who serves on the House Privileges and Elections Committee, said some Republicans are not opposed to the concept but will not agree to give voters 45 days to cast a ballot.

In Virginia, there was a surge in the number of registered voters and the number of people who cast ballots. More than 320,000 voters cast absentee ballots in person.

"As we proved in this last presidential election, it worked,'' said Olga Hernandez, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. "Many more people voted."

The General Assembly returns to the state Capitol for a 45-day legislative session next week.

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