- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 8, 2009

RICHMOND | Gov. Tim Kaine on Wednesday backed legislation to open up absentee voting to all registered Virginia voters.

The push comes months after a historic presidential election in which concerns over long lines at the polls prompted a record number of Virginians to vote absentee. But only those who met at least one of 17 criteria - including being disabled or ill, pregnant, away on Election Day or caring for an ill family member - qualified to cast an absentee ballot.

The two bills Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, supports would allow absentee voting in person for any reason. Voters still would have to meet one of the criteria to cast a mail-in ballot.

“The tradition of voting in person on that Tuesday in November as it was established 200 years ago made a lot of sense then, but the historical reasons that we have elections in that way don’t necessarily hold up so completely today,” he said.

Mr. Kaine and others said expanding absentee voting would result in more people casting ballots because they could do it when it’s convenient for them. Virginia allows absentee voting in person for a 45-day period before elections.

“This expansion of absentee voting recognizes the realities of citizens’ busy lives and gives them more opportunity to engage in their civic duty,” said Sen. Janet Howell, Fairfax Democrat, and one of the sponsors. “An emergency at work or in the family on Election Day should not disqualify that person from participating in an election.”

Delegate Rosalyn Dance, Petersburg Democrat, who voted absentee for the first time in November, will sponsor the legislation in the House, where similar bills have died in the past.

Mr. Kaine said he had renewed hope this year because of the interest generated by the presidential election. He also said it would help that House leadership has indicated it would no longer allow bills to be killed by unrecorded votes cast in subcommittees.

Last year, a similar bill by Mrs. Howell passed the Senate overwhelmingly, but was killed in a House subcommittee on an unrecorded vote.

Twenty-six other states offer no-excuse voting prior to Election Day.

Virginia has allowed some form of absentee voting since 1863. The state made it official in 1945 by writing it into the state constitution. Now, supporters argue, absentee voting is an essential part of the electoral process.

In November, 320,000 absentee ballots were cast in person in Virginia.

The number of Virginia voters continues to grow, but election officials are barred from creating any more precincts until after congressional and legislative districts are redrawn in 2011. With a looming $3 billion budget shortfall, no money is available to purchase more voting machines or hire new election officials.

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