The 2017 Virginia elections once again demonstrated that Virginians are choosing to vote early in larger numbers each election.
As compared with 2013, early voting in Prince William County was up over 210 percent, 170 percent in Fairfax County, and 146 percent in Stafford County. In 2016, over 120,000 or one in five Fairfax County voters cast their votes early while nearly 44 percent of Prince William County voters voted early.
Voting early allows voters to avoid precinct lines, unpredictable weather, job, family or health problems. Voting by mail gives voters more time to complete their ballot in the privacy of their home. Most importantly, it provides the flexibility to allow more people to participate in our democracy.
Given its popularity, there are more things our government can do to facilitate early voting.
First, I support no excuse early voting. However, my Republican colleagues kill it every year. Short of that, we need to use existing authority to make our current more user friendly.
Second, local registrars could choose to provide postage prepaid envelopes for voters to return their ballots. Many younger voters do not purchase stamps or transact business by mail. Prepaid envelopes would cost our localities a fraction of their budget.
Third, the Fairfax County Registrar has identified a company that manufacturers a recreational vehicle that functions as a Mobile Voting Precinct. This mobile precinct could be placed at locations with large numbers of eligible absentee voters such as Metro Stations, Virginia Railway Express Stations, or commuter lots. It costs only $100,000 per van plus operating costs.
Fourth, in 2015, the Republican Speaker of the House of Delegates, Bill Howell, persuaded the State Board of Elections to allow electronic absentee ballot applications. I collaborated with software engineers to create my own application, and later that year the State Board of Elections created its own online application. This year, Win Virginia PAC and the House Republican Caucus created their own online absentee ballot applications.
There is nothing preventing each county from having its own on their county website other than appropriating some money. Voters no longer need paper applications that must be downloaded, printed and returned. The county should create an electronic application.
All of these simple and cost-effective steps would go a long way to promote participation in our elections and facilitate early voting.
It is an honor to serve as your state senator. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any feedback.