Voter Alert: Major Changes in Virginia Election Law

Scott Spitzer | Fairfax GOP

President Obama once said, “Elections have consequences.” As one political reporter interpreted this remark, “Tough luck, you lost. Get over it.”

With the recent Democrat takeover of the Virginia legislature, numerous bills have been signed into law by Governor Northam, bringing changes, big and small, to life in our state.

Of critical importance to the functioning of our democracy is the actual and perceived honesty with which our elections are conducted. In that context, it is vitally important to understand what has just been enacted here in Virginia.

The Virginia General Assembly adopted far-reaching changes to key election laws that were signed by Governor Northam and become effective on July 1, 2020:

•  House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 65 repeal Virginia’s voter ID requirement. When he signed this measure into law, Governor Northam stated: “Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder. No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard.”The Governor did not draw a distinction between citizens and non-citizens when he said, “No matter who you are.”

Americans are required to show a photo ID to drive or rent a car; board an airplane; buy a box of Sudafed; or apply for a job, to name just a few. Virginia is considered the “Birthplace of American Democracy,” yet Democrats have determined that voting — one of the most precious rights of American citizens — no longer requires a photo ID or any other check or confirmation that the voter is in fact duly entitled to vote. While Governor Northam touts the bill as “strengthening democracy,” it has the real likelihood of doing just the opposite. Yes, eliminating the photo ID requirement may make it somewhat easier for some people to cast a ballot, but it greatly increases the potential for widespread voter fraud. The risks are substantial and real.

 House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 111 allow absentee voting without any stated excuse. Previously, Virginia required absentee voters to provide a reason from an approved list of 20 reasons to cast an absentee ballot, such as disability, illness, or business outside the county of residence on Election Day.  Now, Virginia has become a “no-excuse needed” state for absentee voting.

 House Bill 235 and Senate Bill 219 implement Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) for individuals accessing service at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or the DMV website. AVR didn’t exist in other states as recently as five years ago. Now, anyone visiting a DMV office or uses online services will automatically become a registered voter.

 House Bill 108 and Senate Bill 601 make Election Day a state holiday designed to assist state citizens have personal time to cast their ballot. In order to maintain the same number of state holidays, this law also repeals the Lee-Jackson Day holiday, which was enacted into law more than 100 years ago in honor of the two Civil War military generals.

 House Bill 238House Bill 239 and Senate Bill 455 expand absentee voting timelines to broaden access to the election polls.

•  House Bill 1678 extends election poll hours to 8:00 PM from 7:00 PM.

•  House Bill 201 allows same-day voter registration. Currently, citizens can register until 22 days prior to an election day. This very significant change to our election laws will become effective on October 1, 2022.

The above changes are truly fundamental, but they are by no means the end of the story. We can expect additional changes to Virginia’s election law will be proposed and some enacted and signed into law during the next legislative session. What might they include?  Looking beyond Virginia, there are a number of key election law changes that have already adopted, or are being actively considered in other states. These include:

•  Vote By Mail: Several key national Democrats, support and have vocally advocated for mail-in voting nationally. Democrats are seeking to use the coronavirus as at least part of the rationale to completely nationalize mail-in voting. Such a change should be of major concern to our democracy because it poses yet another, real opportunity for voter fraud.

•  Ballot Harvesting: California now permits ballot harvesting. This means the collection and submission of absentee or mail-in ballots by volunteers or workers. These are not duly appointed and trained election officials, but instead volunteers, who often represent the campaigns of specific candidates. What could possibly go wrong? It is not difficult to envision the substantial potential harm to our voting system. President Trump recently addressed this issue when he tweeted: “Get rid of ballot harvesting. It is rampant with fraud. The USA must have voter ID. The only way to get an honest count!”

•  National Popular Vote Compact: This is an agreement among a group of states to automatically award all of their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. If enacted across the United States, it would completely alter the role of the Electoral College in our electoral system. It would also concentrate national campaign focus on large population states like California and New York, and simultaneously diminish the role and importance of less populous states. This is inconsistent with the historic and valuable balancing among states in our federal system, and would have the effect of diminishing the voices of millions of voters across America.

Scott Spitzer is the Fairfax GOP’s vice chairman for administration. 

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