RICHMOND, Va.—On July 1, Virginia will implement eight more voting rights expansion measures backed by the House Democrats, making voting more accessible for all eligible voters to cast their ballots, which contrasts how Republicans nation-wide have advocated for voting restrictions.
“The right to vote is the bedrock of our democracy,” Virginia Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said. “Here in the Commonwealth, our Democratic Majority has taken historic steps to expand the franchise and allow Virginians to have their voices heard.”
The new Virginia House measures improve both availability and accessibility of absentee voting, expand curbside voting, and allow early voting on Sundays. Notably, the House Democratic Caucus was proud to pass the Voting Rights Act of Virginia.
“Voter suppression efforts in other states show us the importance of our efforts to ensure ballot access here in Virginia,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring, who carried HJ 555, which begins the constitutional amendment process to restore the voting rights of former felons. “As legislators, our job is to make sure citizens have their voices heard, and that happens through their vote. Restricting or removing that power is undemocratic.”
This year, Virginia House Democrats also successfully passed legislation (HB 2081) banning people other than law enforcement from possessing guns within 40 feet of polling places on an election day. The ban also applies within one hour of opening or after closing the polling place, when ballots are counted, or when a local electoral board meets after an election to ascertain results. This legislation comes after the 2020 presidential election when armed protesters gathered outside vote counting centers in Arizona to protest the apparent election results.
Around the country this year, Republican-controlled legislatures are rolling back voting rights in an effort to suppress voters after former President Donald Trump made baseless claims that election fraud caused his loss. States such as Georgia, Texas, and Florida have made national headlines for their drastic voter suppression efforts. On June 22, Republicans in the United States Senate blocked a House bill aimed at securing voting rights nationwide.
“As we’ve seen across the nation, in Republican-led state legislatures, they are repeating history and punishing Black and Brown voters for exercising their power. In Virginia, under our leadership, we know that our democracy is strongest when everyone can participate,” said Delegate Cia Price, the patron of HB 1980. “The Voting Rights Act of Virginia protects the rights of historically suppressed communities instead of attacking them.”
Last year, when Virginia House of Delegates experienced its first Democratic majority in more than 20 years, House Democrats passed sweeping voting rights legislation including creating a permanent absentee vote-by-mail option, removing the excuse requirement for absentee voting, enacting same-day voter registration, establishing Election Day as a state holiday, expanding the voter identification law to include certain non-photo IDs, making voter registration applications available at high schools and colleges, authorizing automatic voter registration, and providing voting materials for non-English-speaking citizens in localities where a language minority group includes at least 10,000 voters or five percent of the voting population.
“The House Democratic Caucus continued our priority of expanding voting access during our second year in the majority. Voters should be free from unnecessary barriers or intimidation,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan said. “The ballot box gives citizens the opportunity to shape their communities, the Commonwealth, and the country for years to come, which is why we have worked hard to uphold the rights of all voters across Virginia.”
The following measures go into effect on July 1, 2021, unless noted otherwise:
- HJ 555 begins the two-year constitutional amendment process to restore certain civil rights — including the right to vote — for felons who have served their time. Leader Herring served as the patron.
- HB 1810 grants the Governor authority to re-open online voter registration if the system fails prior to a pre-election registration deadline. The online system can be re-opened for the amount of time equal to the duration of the outage (rounded up to the nearest whole day) plus one additional day. Currently, the only way to extend the voter registration deadline is through a court order. This legislation was filed by Delegate Schuyler Van Valkenburg.
- HB 1888 improves the availability and accessibility of absentee voting by requiring prepaid postage on envelopes to return absentee ballots, authorizing local electoral boards and registrars to designate drop-off locations for ballots, and allowing absentee-by-mail voters to “cure” certain errors in order to make their ballot countable. This legislation also creates procedural changes to help voters with a visual impairment or a print disability vote absentee by mail. The reforms in HB 1888 make voting easier for the voter and the registrar, amend some procedures to enhance clarity for both election officials and the public, and help place the Commonwealth on a solid legal footing. Del. Van Valkenburg carried this bill as well.
- HB 1890, also known as the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, affirms voters’ access and ensures equity at the polls, by requiring any proposed changes to local voting laws or regulations must be (i) publicized and available for public comment by the affected communities and (ii) evaluated for adverse effects on members of protected classes before going into effect. It applies federal language access requirements to state and local elections when either 5 percent or more than 10,000 of the voting-age residents of a locality are members of a single language minority. Election and voting materials must be provided in the minority language once the threshold is met. The Voting Rights Act of Virginia strengthens protections against voter threats, intimidation, and misinformation, to ensure every voter can cast a ballot freely and safely. Either the Virginia Attorney General or affected individuals have the ability to initiate a civil action in court if these protections are violated. Del. Price served as the patron for HB 1890. This legislation goes into effect on September 1, 2021.
- HB 1921 allows voters to vote outside the polling place if they have a disability or are injured; during a state of emergency due to a public health crisis, this extends to every voter. Signs outside of the polling place must clearly mark where the curbside voting area is located and notify voters how they can inform election officers that they are outside waiting to vote. Del. Price also introduced this bill.
- HB 1968 permits localities to hold early voting on Sundays. This legislation was sponsored by Delegate Lamont Bagby.
- HB 2125 allows any Virginia citizen who is 16 or 17 years old and otherwise eligible to vote, to be automatically added to the voter rolls on their 18th birthday. Delegate Alfonso Lopez filed HB 2125. Goes into effect on October 1, 2022.
- HB 2198 addresses local elections for district- or ward-based offices, and mandates that if a candidate for the governing body or school board must reside in a district or ward, they must be elected by registered voters of that district or ward. Delegate Kelly Convirs Fowler patroned this measure. Goes into effect on January 1, 2022.