SB 111 (Howell) is on the Senate floor after being reported from the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, 11-4, on Tuesday, January 14. The bill, which incorporated four similar measures, eliminates the requirement for a voter to provide an excuse in order to vote by absentee ballot and requires that in-person no-excuse absentee voting be available from the 45th day before the election through the Saturday immediately preceding an election, with some flexibility for absentee voting to be made available “as soon as possible” in case of a special election. This bill expands the early voting legislation enacted in 2019, which allowed for in-person absentee voting with an excuse from 45 days in advance of the election until the second Saturday before the election; from that point through the Saturday preceding the election, no excuse would be required. The 2019 legislation had a delayed enactment clause providing that it would not take effect until the November 2020 general election.
SB 617 (Deeds) is the Northam Administration’s bill to address aspects of the implementation of early voting and reflects the report adopted by the State Board of Elections in November on implementation of the more limited 2019 no-excuse absentee voting legislation (VACo reported on the Board’s discussion in County Connections). The bill authorizes local governing bodies (rather than electoral boards) to establish satellite offices for in-person absentee voting by ordinance, similar to the current authority to establish polling places for regular Election Day voting, and requires public notice of the locations and hours of operation of satellite locations (via posting on the locality’s website and in the general registrar’s office, or via newspaper publication if the locality does not have a website). Although the bill requires the governing body to provide sufficient funds to enable the general registrar to provide “adequate facilities” at each satellite location, the bill does not mandate a specific number or ratio of satellite locations, an important element of local flexibility for which VACo had advocated during discussions with the Department of Elections last summer and fall.
There are many election-related proposals under consideration this session; expanding access to absentee voting is a top priority of the Administration and of the Democratic majority in the legislature. VACo has been working with partner organizations to advocate with the Administration and legislature for more assistance to localities with election administration, and will continue to work on this issue throughout the budget process. The Governor’s budget includes $2.5 million in each year of the biennium to provide full reimbursement for general registrars’ salaries and compensation for electoral board members, which is a positive step, as state reimbursement had declined to 69 percent and 82 percent, respectively.
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle