In 2021, the Virginia State Legislature made significant progress by passing a multitude of pro-voter reforms, including passing a state-level version of the federal Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately after a shift of power in the election, the 2022 Legislature only passed a few minor pro-voter changes and one significant anti-voter bill that bans private funds for elections. The broad wording of the bill will likely force elections officials to pay for nonpartisan training and technical assistance from industry and nonprofit experts that they had received in previous years. Additionally, the newly-elected attorney general created an “Election Integrity Unit” to prosecute alleged election law violations, despite having previously noted that he found no evidence of widespread fraud during the 2020 election. Overall, the pro-voter measures will have a more profound impact on eligible voters’ access to the ballot, giving Virginia a B on this year’s progress report.
Where Virginia Started in 2020
- Automatic Voter Registration: Front-End
- Online Voter Registration: DMV ID
- Same-Day Registration: Yes
- Restoration of Rights: Some Permanent Disenfranchisement
- Vote by Mail: No-Excuse
- Electronic Registration Information Center Member: Yes
- Early Voting Opportunities: In-person Absentee
- ID Requirements: ID Requested, but not Required
Relying on the Cost of Voting Index for Virginia as of 2020, we considered the state a top tier state for pre-existing voting policy and compared its 2021-22 activity against other top tier states.
How Our Tier Compares:
2021: Two Years Ago
During the 2021 session, the General Assembly passed several pro-voter pieces of legislation that further expanded voting rights in the state.
- S 1245 allows absentee ballot drop offs at the registrar’s office, early voting centers, and all polling places on Election Day, requires ballot pre-processing to begin before the election, and prohibits election officials from rejecting absentee ballots for minor errors such as unsealed outer envelopes, missing dates, and more.
- H 1890 is a state-level version of the federal Voting Rights Act. It prohibits the state and local election jurisdictions from making any election-related changes to existing policies or procedures that discriminate against voters based on “race, or color, or membership in a language minority group,” requires certain jurisdictions that want to change election policies to obtain preclearance from the attorney general, and requires jurisdictions that meet certain population thresholds for language minority groups to provide voting materials in that language.
- HJR 555 is a proposed constitutional amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would automatically restore an individual’s right to vote upon their release from incarceration for a felony conviction. This resolution must be voted on again by the legislature in a subsequent session and then be placed on the ballot for voters to pass at a future general election.
- H 2125 allows qualified individuals to preregister to vote at 16.
- H 1968 allows election officials to offer absentee voting in person the two Sundays before Election Day.
2022: This Past Year
After the 2021 elections saw the balance of power shift in the House of Delegates, the Assembly was unable to muster the same support for pro-democracy legislation that it had in the past. The Assembly made only minor pro-voter changes in 2022 and one significant anti-voter change.
- S 689 protects registered voter list information from being publicly posted online.
- H 1140 requires local registrars to notify voters by both mail and email that their voter registration has been canceled.
- H 439 requires absentee ballot instructions to include the website where voters can go to see explanations of any proposed constitutional amendments or state referendum on the ballot.
- S 211 requires the State Registrar of Vital Records to transmit death records to the Elections Department on a weekly basis rather than a monthly basis.
- S 80 prohibits election officials from accepting private funds for “voter education and outreach programs, voter registration programs, or any other expense incurred in the conduct of elections.” The broad wording of the bill will likely force elections officials to pay for nonpartisan training and technical assistance from industry and nonprofit experts that they had received in previous years.
- Recently Attorney General Miyares announced the creation of an “Election Integrity Unit” to prosecute alleged election law violations, despite having previously noted that he found no evidence of widespread fraud during the 2020 election.
- The Department of Elections is currently working on implementing the new same-day registration law that goes into effect on October 1.