Delegates Toss Early Voting, Redistricting Bills

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 20, 2009; B02

RICHMOND, Jan. 19 -- A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Monday defeated proposals to bring early voting to Virginia, likely ending serious discussion of the issue for the year.

A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee also voted down several bills that would have changed the way the commonwealth establishes legislative and congressional boundaries, rejecting passionate calls by voter groups to fix what they have said is an undemocratic system.

The six-member subcommittee, controlled by Republicans, voted 4 to 2 along party lines to set aside the bills.

Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington), who introduced one of the redistricting bills, criticized Republicans for hastily scheduling both votes at 7 a.m. on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta) said he objected to Brink's comments because, he claimed, Democrats treated Republicans worse when they were in the majority.

Both votes were setbacks for Democrats and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who had made early voting a priority for the 45-day legislative session. Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), who is running for governor, introduced a redistricting bill this year for the seventh time. He called the House vote "shortsighted."

The Senate will still consider its own bills on early voting and redistricting, but even if senators pass them, it is unlikely the House will approve them.

The subcommittee considered four voting bills, including one favored by Kaine that 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 a reason.

"It's unfortunate,'' said Gordon Hickey, Kaine's spokesman. "It's a good bill."

Democrats typically support early voting because they believe working-class voters find it more difficult to get to the polls. Republicans believe that expanding voting opportunities opens the door to fraud.

The state now requires voters to provide one of 17 acceptable reasons to qualify for an absentee ballot, among them being disabled, ill, pregnant or out of town on Election Day. Under the proposal, those wishing to vote absentee by mail would still have been required to meet one of the requirements.

Virginia would have joined 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.

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

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