Republican-led committees advance no-excuse early absentee voting legislation

Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, at a committee meeting in the General Assembly Building. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Lawmakers in both chambers are advancing bills for the first time that would allow no-excuse absentee voting.

In a House subcommittee, chairwoman Margaret Ransone, R-Westmoreland, said it was a “big step.”

In the Senate, a proposal from Sen. Lionel Spruill is moving toward passage that allows no-excuse absentee voting without a time limit.

The House Privilege and Elections committee agreed on a proposal from Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, that would allow in-person absentee voting without an excuse a week before Election Day. Voters would still be able to vote absentee with an excuse beginning 45 days before the election.

“I wanted it late so voters could get as much information as possible to make their decision,” Rush said at a committee meeting.

Typically, concerns from general registrars have stymied the passage of similar bills because of concerns about staffing and funding, said Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, chair of the Privileges & Elections committee

“He must’ve had the golden touch,” he said of Rush.

There were a number of no-excuse absentee voting measures filed by Democrats. Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, carried a bill endorsed by Gov. Ralph Northam that would allow no-excuse absentee voting during the entire 45-day period that absentee voting already occurs.

Several other voting measures proposed by Democrats met their end in the House Privileges and Elections committee this year, including extending absentee voting to people over 65, repealing the photo I.D. requirement and a form of automatic voter registration.

The Equal Rights Amendment, supports by members of both parties, was also lost in that committee when it didn’t make it out of subcommittee and members of the full committee voted not to hear it as a full body.