Although a significant number of bills dealing with elections were considered this session, only a handful have met with approval in both chambers. Among the bills that are expected to pass this session are the following:
HB 1948 (Bloxom) eliminates the requirement for a witness to sign an absentee ballot’s return envelope. Instead, the voter must provide his or her date of birth and the last four digits of his or her Social Security number (or unique identifier assigned by the voter registration system). This bill has passed both chambers.
HB 1683 (Ransone) provides some flexibility to localities in the required notice of the last day of voter registration by providing that this notice must be published at least once in a newspaper of general circulation in the county or city, if one is available, in addition to being posted on the official website of the county or city. Current law requires newspaper publication, as well as posting on the website (if applicable). This bill has passed both chambers.
HB 2266 (Ransone) directs the State Board of Elections to adopt a policy regarding the counting and reporting of absentee ballots in a central absentee voter precinct. Language directs the policy to ensure that the results of absentee ballots cast early in person are reported separately from mailed absentee ballots and posted promptly on the State Board website, and that absentee ballots are reported by precinct (in accordance with legislation enacted last year) and posted on the State Board website no later than noon on the seventh calendar day following the election. This bill is on the Senate floor.
HB 2324 (Cordoza) directs the State Board of Elections to promulgate standards and instructions for the conduct of recounts in elections for any office to which more than one candidate can be elected. This bill has passed both chambers.
HB 2443 (Bloxom) provides that in an election for a local office in a locality with a population of no more than 4,000 persons, if the person having the highest number of votes for the office is elected by write-in votes and is not qualified to hold such office or declines to assume such office, the person having the second highest number of votes is deemed to have been elected to such office. If the person having the second highest number of votes is not qualified to hold such office or declines to assume such office, the person having the next highest number of votes shall be deemed to have been elected to such office and shall receive the certificate of election. If the person having the next highest number of votes is not qualified to hold such office or declines to assume such office, a vacancy would then be declared and filled by special election. This bill has passed both chambers.
HB 2471 (Batten) and SB 1514 (Mason) deal with removal of a general registrar. Under the bills, a registrar may be removed by the circuit court upon a petition signed by a majority of members of the State Board of Elections or a majority of the members of the local electoral board. The bills provide that a general registrar or member of a local electoral board may apply to the Virginia Division of Risk Management to assign counsel for his or her defense. Under current law, a general registrar may be removed by the local electoral board with a simple majority vote; the State Board of Elections may petition a circuit court to remove the registrar, but only if the State Board first petitioned the local electoral board, the local electoral board refused to remove the registrar, and the State Board found that the failure to remove the general registrar has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of either the registrar’s office or any election. HB 2471 has passed both chambers; SB 1514 is on the House floor.
SB 944 (Suetterlein) requires the writ of election to fill a vacancy in the membership of the General Assembly to be issued within 30 days of the vacancy or receipt of notification of the vacancy, whichever comes first. If the vacancy occurs or will occur between December 10 and March 1, the writ must order that the special election take place no more than 30 days from the date of such vacancy. This bill is on the House floor.
Bills dealing with ranked-choice voting were not successful this session.
HB 1751 (Davis), as introduced, would have allowed ranked choice voting to be used in any state-run primary election at the option of the political party, and also extended the authority to conduct elections by ranked choice voting to members of a local governing body or school board (currently this option is only available for elections of members of boards of supervisors or city councils). In response to concerns expressed by VACo and others that some localities are not equipped to conduct elections via ranked choice voting with their current voting systems, the patron removed provisions dealing with ranked choice voting in primaries. Additional language proposed in subcommittee that would allow ranked choice voting to be used only in cases where both the governing body and school board agreed was more controversial, and the bill was tabled. A similar fate befell HB 2436 (Hudson), which was similar to the introduced version of HB 1751, and HB 2118 (Hudson), which would have allowed ranked choice voting for any local or constitutional office. SB 1380 (Deeds), which would have allowed ranked choice voting in Presidential primaries, was passed by indefinitely in Senate Privileges and Elections at the request of the patron, with the understanding that a letter would be send to the Department of Elections requesting assistance in working through implementation challenges. A companion bill in the House, HB 2301 (Bloxom), was not heard.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle