- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2009

RICHMOND | Virginia voters would no longer be required to give an excuse to cast an absentee ballot in person under legislation that cleared the Senate on Monday.

Currently, those who want to vote absentee must meet one of 17 criteria, such as being out of town on Election Day, being pregnant or taking care of an ill family member.

Sen. Janet Howell’s bill, which passed 24-16, would allow in-person voting for 45 days before an election for any reason. Those who wish to vote absentee by mail still would have to have one of the 17 excuses.

A similar bill died in a House subcommittee last week. Last year, the measure passed out of the Senate overwhelmingly, but died in the House.

“This year, we have an additional 321,743 reasons to vote for this bill,” said Mrs. Howell, Fairfax Democrat, referring to the number of people who cast an absentee ballot in person before the presidential election in November. Many voters waited in line for hours to cast that ballot.

The change is expected to save the state at least $18,000 a year by requiring less absentee applications to be designed, printed and distributed.

Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, said he could not support the bill because it is expected to increase costs to local governments.

“We’re cutting aid to local governments, and we’re hearing from local governments telling us they’re tired of us forcing mandates on them,” he said.

Local registrars are split in their support for the change.

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, Fauquier Republican, said registrars have told her they couldn’t meet the demand that no-excuse absentee voting would create.

Miss Howell said her concern was for the voters and that the most recent election showed this was something they wanted.

Twenty-six states already have similar systems.

The Senate also passed legislation to do away with the requirement that witnesses for federal write-in absentee ballots must give a signature, printed name and an address for the document to be considered valid for an absentee ballot application and a completed ballot.

The bill by Sen. John Miller, Newport News Democrat, passed unanimously and requires only the witness’s signature.

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