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Bills would extend voting hours in Virginia

BY CHELYEN DAVIS

RICHMOND—Citing the long lines to vote on Election Day last November, House of Delegates Democrats said Thursday that they’ll push for legislation to extend voting hours and allow early voting.

Democrats said the state should be making it easier for people to vote, and that last November’s long lines and occasional equipment glitches show it’s time for Virginia to change how it does elections.

Del. Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke, said Virginia’s voting system is “archaic” and restricts voting access for some voters.

He’s proposing a bill to allow early voting for any reason, at specified places and times set up by election officials. Currently Virginia allows voters to vote early by absentee ballot, but you have to have a reason to do so (such as planning to be out of town on election day).

Ware cited his 82-year-old mother, who he said can’t stand in a line to vote for two or three hours, but would need an excuse to vote early absentee.

“Early voting is done throughout this nation,” Ware said. “We’re probably lagging far behind in access to voting” compared to other states.

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, is one of two House Democrats proposing bills to keep Virginia’s polls open an hour later, until 8 p.m.

That would help commuters in Northern Virginia, she said, who may still be sitting in traffic when polls close now at 7 p.m.

“The heaviest hour of commuting should be over by 8,” she said.

Other Democrats are proposing constitutional amendments to allow felons to have their civil rights—or at least the right to vote—restored automatically, something Gov. Bob McDonnell announced Wednesday that he is backing this year.

Efforts to pass that in past years have failed, and they may this year too, despite the governor’s support. Several Republicans have said they don’t approve, including House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford.

Howell was asked about automatic restoration of rights at Thursday’s House Republican press conference, held to talk primarily about business and economic development legislation.

“There’s a process that works” for restoration of civil rights for felons, Howell said, adding that he prefers the current system.

Some Republicans have taken a different tack from Democrats on voting issues; this year several Republicans have put in bills to remove some forms of identification from the list approved in last year’s voter ID bill, and a couple of bills calling for photo ID for voting.

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, has one of the bills that would cut down on the kinds of documents used for identification. Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, has a photo ID bill, which also requires the Department of Motor Vehicles to issue free photo IDs to voters who don’t have one and can’t afford one.

The House Republican caucus isn’t necessarily backing those efforts; it wasn’t mentioned at their press conference. Asked about those bills, House Majority Leader Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said he hasn’t heard a lot from his constituents about voter identification issues, and doesn’t necessarily think last year’s bill needs tweaking.

“The status quo is pretty good,” Cox said.

Chelyen Davis:  804/343-2245

cdavis@freelancestar.com

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