Should Virginia adopt no-fault absentee voting, which would allow all registered voters to vote absentee without providing an excuse?
True absentee voting opens participation
Liss is executive director of Virginia New Majority (virginianewmajority.org).
We are at a fork in the political road: Do we, as Virginians, fundamentally believe that every citizen should be allowed and in fact encouraged to vote? Or do we believe that voting is a privilege for a select few and that we should create as many obstacles as possible to keep out less privileged and less desired voters? A majority of Virginians believe that our state is best served by encouraging a robust and participatory democracy.
One recurring battleground on which this divergence takes place is the restricting of absentee voting. The absentee voting application form asks a number of questions and requests documentation to determine a potential voter’s eligibility to apply for an absentee ballot:
Are you pregnant? Do you work and drive to work for a total of 11 or more hours on Election Day? Are you ill or infirm?
Currently, if you want to vote and you can’t make it to your assigned poll on Election Day, get ready for the questionnaire. Depending on your county’s registrar, this can be more or less stringently enforced. Why the personal interrogation? Why allow a registrar the discretion to decide who can or cannot vote?
Virginia is among the states with the most restrictive and anti-democratic voting laws in the country. Not surprisingly, most of the most-restrictive laws are set up in the U.S. South as part of a historic effort to limit African-American voting. Enough is enough.
As a first step toward encouraging democratic participation in Virginia’s elections, we need true absentee voting (also called no-fault absentee voting). With no need for a state-permitted excuse, all registered voters would have the right to request and vote with a mail-in ballot or be able to go to a state-run facility and vote prior to Election Day. If you are elderly or young, pregnant or not, infirm or able-bodied, we all should be able to fill out the paperwork and vote. No need to hide behind allegations of voter fraud or other invented excuses.
Who’s afraid of democracy and why? It’s time to turn the page on laws that were invented to keep African Americans, poor people and immigrants from voting. Let’s move forward by creating a commonwealth where all participate. Let’s start by allowing true absentee voting.
No-excuses absentee voting invites problems
Hoeft founded and continues to write for Bearing Drift blog (bearingdrift.com).
Our Constitution begins with “We the People” and goes on to explain how we establish our government through voting. Additionally, there are five constitutional amendments that address a person’s right to vote.
Intrinsically, in our constitutional republic, the right to vote is fundamental to how we as a society determine our government.
Therefore, for anyone who values constitutional principles — it is expected for people to be involved, informed and active in the political process.
However, while it is important to maximize voter participation by the electorate, no-excuse absentee balloting is not the way to do it.
Consider what no-excuse absentee balloting might give us:
n Fraud. A person who physically votes under the observation of election officials will greatly diminish the possibility of a person cheating the system or being unduly influenced and/or intimidated by outside interests.
n Diminished sense of community. Voting is, without a doubt, a community event. Individuals exercise their personal responsibility in selecting their government, but it is also the individual coming together in the sense of a larger community to make a community decision — at a particular moment in time.
n Increased expense. It is a small personal cost to pay to actually go to the polls where there has already been an investment of taxpayer dollars. With a proposed increase in absentee voting, there is the risk of increased costs on top of the investment already incurred (additional study may have to be done to see if absentee voting reduces costs in the long run).
n An uninformed choice. Absentee ballots must be returned before the end of a campaign — the actual Election Day; therefore, a voter could miss the introduction of key information into the campaign that might have influenced that person’s vote (debates, endorsements, etc.), yet his vote has already been cast.
n Changes in the political system. Right now, presidential candidates cannot spend money raised for the general election until they are the nominee. With no-excuse absentee voting, which is effectively voting on-demand, a candidate, particularly a challenger who is already at a disadvantage, has less than a month to make his case (from the end of a nominating convention to the beginning of absentee ballot voting).
The reality is that presently absentee ballots can be requested for 11 different reasons, including working all day; therefore, if a person truly wants to vote absentee, he likely can find a reason.
No-excuse absentee balloting is simply inviting more problems than it solves.