- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 28, 2008

RICHMOND — State lawmakers have proposed legislation for the upcoming 2009 General Assembly session to reduce long lines at polls on Election Day.

Three lawmakers filed bills to allow early in-person voting in Virginia, and two have proposed no-excuse absentee voting. Right now, voters must choose from a list of acceptable reasons - including a trip out of town or an expected long day at work - to receive an absentee ballot.

The changes were proposed after a record 74 percent of the state’s roughly 5 million registered voters cast ballots in the November general election. Lines stretched as long as half a mile at some precincts during peak voting hours.

Nationally, more than 131 million people voted - breaking the 2004 record of 122 million. Nearly a third of this year’s votes were cast before Election Day because of the growing popularity of early voting, said Rosemary E. Rodriguez, chairwoman of the nonpartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Thirty-two states allow early in-person voting, either absentee or on voting machines at designated locations, according to the Early Voting Information Center, at Reed College, in Portland, Ore. Twenty-eight states also allow no-excuse absentee voting by mail.

Virginia voters have limited options: Brave the long lines on Election Day or have a valid reason for voting absentee, either in person or by mail.

The sponsors of the early in-person voting bills are Sen. L. Louise Lucas, of Portsmouth, and Delegates Onzlee Ware, of Roanoke, and Rosalyn R. Dance, of Petersburg, all Democrats. Mrs. Dance said she introduced the bill at the request of constituents and has proposed no-excuse absentee voting.

Sen. Janet D. Howell, Reston Democrat, is sponsoring legislation to eliminate the excuse requirement for in-person absentee voting but keeping it for absentee voting by mail.

Miss Rodriguez said many voters prefer to vote on Election Day, in part because they fear their candidate will implode between the time they vote and Election Day.

Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, also is proposing a package of election reforms. Early voting is not among them, but he thinks the concept is worth studying.

Delegate James M. Shuler, Montgomery Democrat, is sponsoring legislation addressing other problems that occurred during the November election: voter registration of college students and wearing political buttons, stickers and other apparel at polling places.

One bill would clarify that in-state college students can register to vote where they attend school. Critics say the current law is unclear. The problem has existed for years but was magnified this year by unprecedented voter registration drives on college campuses.

Mr. Shuler’s other proposal would reverse Virginia State of Elections guidelines prohibiting voters from wearing apparel with political slogans or candidates’ names at polling places on Election Day. The election board says the guidelines follow the state’s law against electioneering within 40 feet of the entrance to polling places.

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