RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Virginia Republicans are backing efforts to change voting rules that expanded access to the ballot and led to an increase in registered voters.
When Democrats controlled the state government, Virginia repealed its voter photo ID law, made ballot drop-off boxes permanent, opened up 45 days of no-excuse absentee voting and passed its own voting rights act — a first in the South.
With these rules in place, Youngkin won in November with more votes than any other gubernatorial candidate in Virginia’s history and Republicans grabbed a four-seat majority in the House of Delegates.
In a post-election report shared on Jan. 18, the Virginia Department of Elections credited the recent voting law changes for an uptick in voter registrations.
“Over the last four years, Virginia has seen increases in the percentage of registered voters, a direct correlation to recent legislation that expanded access to the ballot, and has proven, once again, that elections can be administered in a way that guarantees access to the ballot, all while maintaining secure processes that ensure safe, secure, fair, and free elections,” the report says.
Despite the increase, Republicans have filed several bills aimed at reversing the voting laws that Democrats passed over the last two years. With their fate hinging on the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate, it remains unlikely that any GOP proposals for tougher voting laws get to Youngkin’s desk.
Youngkin-backed bills in the Virginia General Assembly
Gov. Youngkin is supporting bills from Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland) and state Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier).
The legislation from Vogel would expand the State Board of Elections from five to eight members with equal representation for Democrats and Republicans and give the board the authority to appoint the commissioner of elections of the Department of Elections. The bill received bipartisan support in the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee.
Ransone’s bill would bring back the photo ID law, require local election officials to review lists of decedents from the State Registrar of Vital Records and “promptly cancel” people’s registration if they are no longer alive.
The legislation, which was referred to the House Privileges and Elections Committee, would also require audits of ballot scanner machines.
The GOP’s efforts in the Virginia House
With a 52-48 majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, Republicans won’t face hurdles getting the party’s legislation through committees and the chamber during the 2022 legislative session.
On Jan. 25, legislation from Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) that would reinstate Virginia’s photo ID law reported out of the House’s Privileges and Elections subcommittee with a 6-4 vote. The bill would also limit early voting to seven days instead of 45 and require people to apply for an absentee ballot every year.
“These measures provide first, an abundant opportunity to exercise the sacred right to vote while doing due diligence to ensure that the voters who vote are eligible to do so,” Ware told the panel Tuesday, adding that his bill would protect the election process from being “diluted by those who might be involved in mischief in voting.”
Ware added that he believes the 45-day window for early voting is not needed and expensive, sharing that he lives near an early voting location in his district and he noticed that it wasn’t very busy until one week from Election Day.
A Democrat on the subcommittee, Del. David Reid (Loudoun), pointed out that early voting locations in his district remained busy and gave residents the convenient option to vote while running errands. Another Democrat on the panel, Del. Dawn Adams (Richmond), asked Ware if there was a rampant voter fraud problem in Virginia that his bill would fix.
Ware admitted the issue is not widespread but said he heard about “a number of instances” where people who were signed up to vote at a location and should not have been. He said making someone show photo ID would help protect against these concerns.
“Are we talking about five or 5,000?” Adams asked. Ware responded that he received two calls from people in his district about the issues.
“It strikes me when people say ‘put confidence back into the election system.’ The number one way we can do that is if politicians and media figures would just tell the truth about how our elections are safe and secure,” Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg (D-Henrico) said before the panel voted to send the bill to the full committee.
Democrats block Republican proposals in the Virginia Senate
Virginia Democrats still have a 21-19 majority in the state Senate, but the tie-breaking vote no longer sits in the hands of the party after Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears took over as president of the chamber.
Senate Democrats vowed ahead of the session to protect the progress they made on voting rights over the last two years and they have wielded their power in committee meetings.
The Republican effort to make photo IDs mandatory at the polls again, introduced by state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), was killed by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on a 9-6 vote along party lines on Jan. 18.
The same Senate committee heard several bills from state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), a lawmaker who has repeated false claims that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, on Jan. 25. Just as Democrats predicted, Chase’s bills did not make it out of committee.
Along party lines, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee killed Chase’s legislation to get rid of same-day voter registration in Virginia, her bill to require all ballots for state or federal office to have a unique bar code or quick response code on them and a measure to require absentee voters using mail-in ballots to provide an excuse.
A bill to end the use of ballot drop boxes has been filed by state Sen. Wendell Walker (R-Lynchburg) but the measure has not been heard in the privileges and elections committee.