Long lines reignite push for early voting in Virginia

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Photo - People line up to vote at a polling station in Crystal City, Arlington,VA, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012
People line up to vote at a polling station in Crystal City, Arlington,VA, Tuesday, November 6th, 2012
Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

A week after Virginians waited in line for hours to vote for president, there's a new push in the state to allow residents to vote early.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Reston, has tried repeatedly over the years to loosen the state's early voting restrictions without success. But she said voter frustration with long lines may have given her new momentum.

"A lot of voters are very angry because they had to wait in such long lines," Howell said. "I'm hopeful that anger will help get it passed. This shouldn't be a partisan issue. It should be about making it easy for people to vote."

Howell's legislation would allow any Virginian to vote ahead of Election Day. The state is now one of just 14 that don't allow general early voting and the only jurisdiction in the D.C. area that doesn't allow it.

Howell's proposal regularly passed the state Senate only to be killed by a House committee run by Republicans. Last year, with Republicans controlling the Senate for the first time in more than a decade, Howell's proposal didn't pass out of that chamber.

Republicans are reluctant to expand absentee voting, let alone allow early voting for everyone, citing the potential for fraud. House Privileges and Elections Committee Chairman Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, suggested having more voting machines available would avoid long lines, but that could be costly for local governments.

"Having an Election Day is important. It allows you to fully vet the candidates," Cole said. "The people who voted early in this last election, there was no way for them to take in account things that happened in the final weeks. We're better served if people vote on Election Day."

While Howell has sought to loosen voting rules, Cole and Republicans are headed in the opposite direction. Virginia Republicans passed legislation this year that toughened the state's voter ID laws and Cole said he would like to toughen them further by requiring voters to show a photo ID.

Republicans have touted voter ID laws nationally as a remedy for voter fraud. Democrats opposed those measures, charging that there has been no widespread voter fraud and that the laws are really intended to limit voting by the poor and minorities.

Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican who waited in line for 75 minutes to vote in last week's election, hinted that he would be open to expanding absentee voting.

"There's certainly the balance of increased voter participation versus the potential for mischief," McDonnell said. "It'll be a discussion, no doubt." Virginians can vote by absentee ballot if they meet any of the 19 criteria, including being in the military or commuting to the District from Northern Virginia.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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