Virginia Senate eases absentee voting requirements


The Virginia Senate and House passed election-related bills Monday, including legislation that makes voting absentee easier.

The Senate voted 21-19 to pass Senate Bill 1097, which would remove the requirement that all absentee ballots be filled out in the presence of a witness. The law currently requires a witness signature for an absentee ballot to be valid, although that requirement was temporarily halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would eliminate the requirement permanently.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, received substantial support from Democrats who argued it would make voting easier and more accessible. Republicans warned it could compromise election security.

House Bill 2081, which passed along a similar partisan divide in the House, would prohibit the possession of firearms on or near voting locations. The bill, sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, passed the chamber in a 53-47 vote.

The legislation would prohibit possession of a firearm within 40 feet of any buildings used as a polling location. It would be applicable one hour before the building is being used for that purpose until one hour after. Violations would result in a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Law enforcement officers and licensed armed security officers employed at the building would be exempt from the requirement. Any person whose private property falls within 40 feet of a polling place also would be exempt while occupying that property.

The Senate also passed legislation that would allow the general registrar to contract with a third party for absentee ballot assembly and distribution. Senate Bill 1239, which passed the chamber 27-12, directs the State Board of Elections to adopt emergency regulations for such third-party contracting.

Senate Bill 1111, which received unanimous support from both parties, would remove the power of officers of election to appoint a non-law enforcement officer to have the full duties of an officer in that area if no officer is available. Current law provides for this authority.

The House unanimously passed legislation that clarifies certain voters have a right to curbside voting. This right, under House Bill 1921, would be applicable for any person who has an injury or a permanent or temporary physical disability.

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