By: Kira Simon

This weekend was the deadline for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to act on the bills that Virginia’s general assembly passed in the 2020 session. Virginia residents can now expect a slew of laws expanding voting rights to go into effect in the Commonwealth.The governor announced his signature on a variety of bills, that will:

  • Transition the state from excused early/absentee voting only to no-excuse early/absentee voting, starting forty-five days before an election
  • Move up the deadline to apply for absentee ballots from a week before the election to eleven days before the election
  • Expand the deadline to return absentee ballots from close of polls on Election Day to before noon on the third day after the election (postmarked on or before Election Day)
  • Eliminate the requirement of presenting a photo ID before casting an in-person ballot
  • Make Election Day a state holiday
  • Implement automatic voter registration for individuals accessing services at a Department of Motor Vehicles office or website
  • Extend in-person voting an extra hour – from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Governor Northam previously approved some other bills, which will:

  • Require any electronic voting system approved by the State Board of Elections to retain each printed ballot cast
  • Increase the membership of the State Board of Elections from three to five members
  • Provide that in the event of a tie, there will be a special election to determine the winner (as opposed to the current regime of pulling a name from a bowl) – except in elections for governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, or presidential electors
  • Improve minority language accessibility for voting and election materials
  • Require public high schools to give enrolled students who are eighteen or older voter registration information and applications and the opportunity to complete that application during the school day
  • Require candidates for local and constitutional offices to file campaign finance reports electronically (effective January 2021)
  • Require notice of a denial of an application to register to vote, within five days of the denial
  • Create a permanent absentee voter list so that eligible voters may apply for and receive absentee ballots for all elections in which they may vote
  • Add text messages to the definition of political calls
  • Subject online political advertising to the same disclosure requirements as political advertising in print media, television, and radio
  • Provide that voters in a precinct split between election districts who believe they were given the wrong ballot may cast a provisional ballot
  • Mandate that the Department of Elections provide mail voter registration application forms to a variety of higher education institutions for their students
  • Remove the requirement that a person in fear for personal safety must provide evidence that they filed a complaint against that person to be granted protected voter status
  • Allow first-time voters who registered to vote by mail who are confined while awaiting trial or for having been convicted of a misdemeanor to vote absentee
  • Repeal Jim Crow laws that implemented and enforced a state poll tax and provided for separate registration records on the basis of race
  • Remove the requirement that poll workers audibly repeat the address of the voter
  • Move the primary election from the second Tuesday in June to the third Tuesday in June (along with the accompanying candidate filing deadlines) (this will not apply in 2020 – rather, because of COVID-19, Gov. Northam moved the June 2020 primary to the fourth Tuesday in June, and recommended to the General Assembly moving the May local elections to November)

In addition to the above mentioned bills, some more bills that the General Assembly passed will become law without the governor’s signature and will:

  • Enact same-day voter registration, beginning October 2022
  • Provide for a referendum in the November 2020 election on establishing the Virginia Redistricting Commission, to reapportion districts
  • Allow local elections to conduct ranked-choice voting (effective July 2021, with a sunset date of July 1, 2031)
  • Add student IDs for out-of-state universities to the list of acceptable forms of voter identification

Notably absent from the list of election law changes is a bill that would have adopted the National Popular Vote Compact, which was introduced in the House of Delegates but never made it to the floor for a vote. Stay tuned for how these changes affect Virginia voters, and what they may signal for further reforms in and out of the state.

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