Absentee procedure unnecessary, senate offers alternative

Xanthe Waters

Contributing Writer

It was only after a lengthy trip to the Stafford County Court House that Samantha Fleming, a junior business major, was finally registered to vote.

Fleming said she knew she would be in school at the time of the 2008 primaries so, seeing an opportunity, she grabbed an absentee and early voting application and trekked into yet another office to submit that form.

“It was kind of annoying with all of the rules,” Fleming said. “You had to follow the form exactly. It’s not like it took a long time or anything. There’s just a lot too it.”

Fleming said the absentee ballot was mailed later with a return envelope. She said she had to have a friend act as a witness and sign to confirm she had voted according to procedure.

It would be easier to vote absentee in Virginia under a bill approved by the Senate.

Senators voted 29-10 in favor of Senate Bill 83, which would allow qualified voters to vote absentee in person without providing an excuse or reason. Under existing law, Virginians must give an excuse, such as illness or work reasons, to cast a ballot before Election Day.

“It is unfair to make people who want to vote absentee go through unnecessary hoops,” said the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston.

“There is no need to turn registered voters into scofflaws.”

SB 83 says Virginians still would have to provide a reason to cast an absentee ballot by mail. Current law allows 10 excuses for voting absentee. They range from “disability, illness or pregnancy” to being a student, a police officer or a member of the U.S. military.

All 22 Democrats in the Senate voted for the bill. Of the Republican senators, seven voted in favor of the bill, 10 voted against it and one (Sen. Frederick Quayle of Suffolk) did not vote.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.

If it becomes law, Virginia would be the 33rd state to let people vote absentee in person for any reason.

Howell said that family emergences, extreme weather and traffic shouldn’t determine whether someone’s vote gets counted.

“Nothing as arbitrary as traffic should keep Virginians from exercising their right to vote,” she said.

To track the bill, visit:

  • The Legislative Information Service: http://leg1.state.va.us/
  • Richmond Sunlight: richmondsunlight.com

Here is how senators voted:

SB 83 Absentee voting; qualified voters to provide a reason for not being able to vote on election day.

floor: 1/25/10  Senate: Read third time and passed Senate (29-Y 10-N)

YEAS–Barker, Blevins, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Herring, Houck, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Norment, Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Reynolds, Saslaw, Ticer, Vogel, Wagner, Wampler, Watkins, Whipple–29.

NAYS–Hanger, Hurt, Martin, McDougle, Newman, Obenshain, Ruff, Smith, Stosch, Stuart–10.

NOT VOTING–Quayle–1.

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