Under the bogus justification that they were advancing the cause of election “integrity,” Republicans in Richmond, as in other states, have pushed through an array of smallish obstacles that together constitute a significant barrier to voting. In a 2018 study published in the Election Law Journal, researchers found that among the 50 states, only Mississippians faced a more tortuous path to the ballot box than Virginians.
None of the self-styled Republican champions of election integrity in Virginia could point to anything but a tiny handful of isolated instances in which an individual ineligible to vote had done so — usually by mistake or misunderstanding rather than any intent to bend the results. None came remotely close to affecting the outcome of any election. As election officials in Virginia can attest, voter fraud in the state is about as common as a unicorn with a ukulele.
Democrats, who in last November’s elections gained control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in decades, are now advancing bills that would roll back the GOP’s potpourri of restrictions. Taken together, the legislation would simplify voting.
The bills would scrap requirements that voters provide justification if they want to vote absentee and extend the deadline by which ballots cast by servicemembers and other Americans overseas must be received. They would clear the way for same-day registration and voting; for automatically pre-registering teenagers starting at age 17; and for recognizing Election Day as a state holiday, which would make voting easier for state employees, among others.
In a democracy, legislation removing hurdles to voting should be noncontroversial — even in Virginia, where demographic change has been tilting the balance of power in Democrats’ favor for years.
That, of course — not the specter of virtually nonexistent voter fraud — is the real reason Republicans have strewn the path to the ballot box with impediments in recent years. Rather than modify their message, they have opted to suppress turnout by minorities, low-income residents and younger voters. Their strategy is an affront to democracy.
It’s time to tear down the barriers to voting in Virginia.