Virginia Politics

Virginia Senate Democrats Kill Slew of GOP Voting Bills

Two of the defeated bills would have mandated that voters present a photo ID, reinstating a requirement Democrats then in full control of state government rolled back in 2020

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A Democrat-led Virginia Senate committee defeated a broad range of Republican-sponsored voting reform measures Tuesday, including bills that would have reinstated a requirement to present a photo ID before casting a ballot.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee made swift work of its agenda, voting to pass by the House bills with minimal discussion since the panel had already voted down Senate versions of some measures earlier in the session.

“Killing these bills today signifies Senate Democrats’ resolve to a fair and free democracy," Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said in a statement after the meeting.

Two of the bills defeated Tuesday would have mandated that voters present a photo ID, reinstating a requirement Democrats then in full control of state government rolled back in 2020. A third measure would have allowed a voter to opt in to being required to show a valid photo ID.

The committee also killed proposals that would have let localities decide whether to hold elections in May or November, moved up the deadline for returning an absentee ballot, halted the use of drop-off locations for absentee ballots, ended same-day voter registration and done away with a permanent absentee voter list.

Republicans had touted many of the measures in a news release a week earlier, calling them popular, commonsense steps to ensure voters' faith in the elections system.

Another GOP measure voted down Tuesday would have substantially limited early voting in person to the two weeks preceding an election but expanded the availability during that time period from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

“Two weeks is plenty for anyone to vote," said Sen. Mark Peake, arguing in favor of the bill sponsored by Del. Phillip Scott.

Those who opposed it said the existing 45-day early voting period would better accommodate voters' busy schedules.

“There’s no discernible purpose of depriving the voters of this convenience or making it harder to vote,” said Pamela Berg, who testified on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Virginia.

The panel also defeated a measure from GOP Del. Amanda Batten that would have added new requirements for anyone sending out an unsolicited application for an absentee ballot to a registered voter.

Batten said the measure was brought to her by her local registrar and was aimed at addressing voter confusion.

The panel advanced a handful of bills, including a GOP-sponsored measure that would expanded the size of the State Board of Elections and make the board — instead of the governor — responsible for appointing the Commissioner of Elections.

The committee also passed a campaign finance reform measure sponsored by Democratic Del. David Bulova that would tighten up record retention requirements and implement reviews of campaign committee financial records by the Department of Elections.

Bulova said the measure was a recommendation of a bipartisan subcommittee formed last year and tasked with studying Virginia's generally lax campaign finance laws.

“While we do have a disclosure process ... one of the weaknesses of that system is that there’s no review for completeness or accuracy," he said.

In each election cycle, the department would review the finance reports for all statewide candidates, 10% of General Assembly candidates and 1% of candidates for all other offices, Bulova said. The campaign committees to be reviewed would be determined by a random drawing.

The bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee for further consideration. A fiscal impact analysis said the Department of Elections would need to pay outside contractors to complete the reviews.

Members of the public who spoke in support of the measure said it would improve transparency and give voters confidence in the accuracy of the reports.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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