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Virginia Repeals Voter ID Law, Makes Election Day a State Holiday

April 14, 2020 by Dan McCue
The Virginia State Capitol on January 8, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images/TNS)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a series of bills this past weekend that dramatically expand voting rights in the state, by eliminating its voter ID requirement, increasing access to early voting and making Election Day a state holiday.

“Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” said Gov. Northam as he signed the bills.

“No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law,” he said.

House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 111, sponsored by House Majority Leader Charniele Herring and Senator Janet Howell, respectively, allow early voting 45 days prior to an election without a stated excuse.

Virginia currently requires voters who wish to vote absentee to provide the state with a reason, from an approved list, why they are unable to vote on Election Day.

“Our democracy relies on equal access to the ballot box,” Herring said.

House Bill 19 and Senate Bill 65, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey and Senator Mamie Locke, respectively, remove the requirement that voters show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot. Voter ID laws disenfranchise individuals who may not have access to photo identification, and disproportionately impact low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. 

House Bill 108 and Senate Bill 601, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey and Senator Louise Lucas, respectively, make Election Day a state holiday, which will help ensure every Virginian has the time and opportunity to cast their ballot.

In order to maintain the same number of state holidays, this measure repeals the current Lee-Jackson Day holiday, established over 100 years ago to honor Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“We need more access to the ballot box, not less,” Senator Lucas said.

House Bill 235 and Senate Bill 219, sponsored by Delegate Joshua Cole and Senator David Marsden, respectively, implement automatic voter registration for individuals accessing service at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office or the DMV website.

House Bill 238 and House Bill 239, sponsored by Delegate Mark Sickles, and Senate Bill 455, sponsored by Senator Bryce Reeves, expand absentee voting timelines to ensure access to the polls.

House Bill 1678, sponsored by Delegate Joe Lindsey, extends in-person polling hours from 7:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

“Virginia’s photo ID law was designed to make it more difficult to vote,” Delegate Lindsey said. “It is past time we repealed this law.”

Majority Leader Herring thanked Gov. Northam “for his partnership in breaking down barriers to voting, and ensuring all Virginians have the opportunity to exercise this fundamental right.”

Also applauding the signing of the bills was Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, who called them yet another example of elections having consequences.

“This is the historic victory that volunteers and activists were working toward as they knocked on doors and made calls across the Commonwealth [during the 2017 and 2019 elections] — and it’s a reminder of the stakes we face this November,” Perez said.

“In recognizing the inviolability of our right to vote, Governor Northam and Virginia Democrats have forged a path toward shutting voter suppression out of our politics for good,” he continued. “From expanding absentee and early voting and passing automatic voter registration to making Election Day a state holiday, these are common sense solutions that voters should enjoy nationwide.” 

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