From early voting to photo ID repeal, Va. Democrats have overhauled election rules to to make voting easier

From early voting to photo ID repeal, Va. Democrats have overhauled election rules to to make voting easier
A poll worker in Richmond holds an "I Voted" sticker. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

In the 2016 presidential election, almost four million Virginians cast a ballot, a solid 72 percent turnout of registered voters.

But another 2.5 million people didn’t vote, according to federal estimates of the voting age population, an eye-opening measure of disinterest and disillusionment.

If some non-voters think getting registered, presenting an ID and figuring out how to cast a ballot at a specific time and place is too much of a hassle, it’s about to get a lot easier.

Voting access was a top priority for the General Assembly’s new Democratic majorities, which sent a package of election-related legislation to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk. Bills to repeal the state’s photo ID law and establish early voting, near-automatic voter registration through the DMV, same-day registration and an Election Day holiday are all on their way to being signed into law.

Northam can still make changes to specific proposals, but he has signaled general support for lowering barriers to voting.

Together, the legislation represents a major overhaul of voting laws enacted under decades of Republican legislative control.

“The first thing Republicans do when they take over state legislatures is they make it harder for people to vote. That’s how they held onto their majorities,” said Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax. “As the first Southern state to flip a majority from Republican to Democrat in this era, I think it’s appropriate that the first thing we did is make voting easier.”

Democrats pitched several proposals as being particularly helpful to the elderly, low-income communities and others who may be less inclined to clear state-enacted hurdles.

The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.