|Under one legislator's plan, you can grab the absentee ballot from your mailbox and go down to your local pub and vote from the safety of your favorite barstool.|
By Chaneé Patterson
RICHMOND, VA. – Let's just say, for argument's sake, that the stresses of carpooling, homework and getting the kids to bed early kept you from the pools last November. Or, perhaps it was an Old Town pub crawl that kept you in bed Election Day, laid out with one wicked hangover.
Well, here comes Richmond to the rescue.
A state legislator wants to make it easier for Virginians who can’t go to the polls on Election Day to obtain an absentee ballot.
Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, has proposed that voters be able to request and receive an absentee ballot by email. They still would have to return the completed ballot by regular mail or by hand.
Currently, only voters who are in the military or are overseas can use email to request and receive an absentee ballot from Virginia election officials.
During the General Assembly’s 2012 regular session, Miller sponsored a bill to allow any registered voter to use email to apply for an absentee ballot.
Under Senate Bill 188, if election officials approve the application, they could email the voter an absentee ballot. The voter then would print out the ballot, mark his or her choices, and submit it by regular mail.
SB 188 passed the Senate but failed in a House subcommittee. Miller says he'll push for it again next year.
“In Virginia, you cannot be emailed the ballot,” Miller noted. Instead, election officials must send absentee ballots by snail-mail. That’s expensive, wastes paper and requires a lot of employees, the senator said.
“It costs $1 for each absentee ballot sent out,” Miller said. “We could save half a million by using electronic applications.” (In the 2008 presidential election, about 507,000 Virginians voted absentee.)
Certain state officials aren’t the only people clamoring for the General Assembly to make it easier to vote absentee.
In February, members of the Student Government Association at Virginia Commonwealth University presented their legislative priorities to state lawmakers. Student leaders also were in favor of SB 188.
“This bill will provide Virginians with easier access to absentee ballots and therefore easier access to voting in all elections,” said Tiffini Smith, an SGA officer. “It would allow military families and college students to receive absentee ballots electronically, which is vital to getting a greater and better represented response in elections.”
Many states go much further than Virginia is contemplating in accommodating absentee voting. In Colorado, Mississippi and a dozen other states, voters can actually cast absentee ballots by email, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s web site.
In Mississippi, for example, voters can email their absentee ballot “as a signed, scanned attachment” to election officials.
Chaneé Patterson writes for Capital News Service.
On the Web
The Federal Voting Assistance Program has posted a guide describing the absentee voting rules in each state:
The State Board of Elections explains who can vote absentee in Virginia and how to do so: