Commentary: Making Election Process More Accessible, Efficient

Commentary: Making Election Process More Accessible, Efficient

The Privileges and Elections Committee is the oldest in the nearly 400-year-old General Assembly. It’s hard to believe that I have the honor to serve on the same committee that George Washington served on in his first year in the House of Burgesses. Voting forges an essential connection between citizens and their representatives; the integrity of elections grants government legitimacy and is central to democracy. As the 2018 session nears its midpoint, here are highlights of election laws that we have considered.

In coordination with voter registrars, electoral boards, and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, I introduced eight pieces of legislation to make our election process more accessible and efficient. An interim joint committee will be established to consider a large volume of legislation regarding election reform in the wake of several incidents arising in the 2017 election and to consider the implementation of no-excuse absentee voting. Five of the bills I have introduced were referred to this interim committee, including SB602, which I introduced at the request of former Governor McAuliffe, and would make it easier for voters to cast an absentee ballot. Currently, a voter must present one of 20 valid excuses to vote with an in-person or mail-in absentee ballot. My bill would eliminate the need for an excuse, allowing all eligible voters to use this option.

Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier), the chair of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, has asked me to serve on the committee. It will meet after the conclusion of our current session and before we convene in 2019. I look forward to an in-depth review of more than a dozen bills and seeking potential solutions to the 2017 irregularities in House District 28. During that election, around 650 voters, more than the margin of victory, were given the wrong ballot in a precinct split among legislative districts; 55 additional mail-in absentee ballots were left uncounted because of a disputed point of law. Voters were unquestionably denied the right to vote.

I co-sponsored legislation introduced by Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax) to remedy the issue of “split precincts.” Our bill has been rolled into SB 983, introduced by Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), and with bipartisan support hopefully we can remedy the errors that disenfranchised so many in HD 28. We need to correct inefficiencies for our poll workers, safeguard the integrity of our elections, and facilitate and encourage the participation of more citizens in the democratic process.

As we adjourned last week, Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County) praised the pace at which the Senate has been able to consider legislation over the first four weeks. I have presented all but four of 29 bills to the relevant committees. In the Senate General Laws and Technology Committee we have completed our docket of legislation, and we have only five bills left to consider in the Privileges and Elections Committee.

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It is my continued honor to serve the people of the 30th District.