Valley GOP To Warner: Not So Fast
Legislators Not Keen On Senator’s Vote Reform Bill
Posted: November 17, 2012
HARRISONBURG — Several state legislators from the central Valley — all Republicans — have this message for Democratic Sen. Mark Warner: not so fast on election reform.
Warner introduced the FAST (Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely) Voting Act of 2012 in Congress on Thursday. It would create a competitive grant program giving incentives to states to invest in election practices and technology to streamline voting and registration procedures.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., is the co-sponsor.
In the most populated areas of Virginia during last week’s election, it took as long as four hours for some people to vote. Warner says such “extraordinary” lines are, in effect, a “21st century poll tax.”
Harrisonburg and Rockingham County did not have that problem this year, although in 2008, some city voters waited more than two hours to cast their ballots.
Warner’s legislation would reward states for any of nine different improvements, including offering same-day registration; early voting on at least nine out of 10 days before an election; and no-excuse absentee voting.
“It’s no surprise to me that a Democratic senator would be preparing more ideas that lend themselves to the kind of voter fraud we’ve seen in recent years,” said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock. “I share Senator Warner’s concern that people should not have to wait in line for hours to cast a vote … but to continue to degrade the integrity of our system to try and reduce wait times I think is misguided.”
He said Democrats in the General Assembly have “consistently rejected” measures that Republicans pitch to combat potential voter fraud. That included this year’s legislation requiring an official form of identification at the polls to cast a non-provisional ballot.
With a GOP-controlled legislature, it passed and became law July 1. State Democrats had argued that it would disenfranchise some groups of voters, including minorities and the elderly, who may not have ID.
Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, said he is concerned with funding for Warner’s proposal.
“Where is he going to come up with the money?” he said. “The last time I checked, the federal government is broke.”
The bill does not say how much the grants would be worth. But it does indicate the funds would be awarded to states for a maximum of four years.
Landes fears that states will have the burden of paying for improvements over time.
“And all of a sudden it becomes the responsibility of the state taxpayers,” Landes said.
Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, had not read the bill as of Friday afternoon, but he is hesitant to support same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots.
“How is that helping if the lines are already too crowded?” he said of same-day registration. “How in the world are they going to register them on the same day? How could it be verified [in time]?”
As for no-excuse absentees, Wilt said: “How far do you go until you just sit at home and vote online? Where do you draw the line? You’re starting to lose the integrity of the process.”
Gilbert said the “simple problem” of lengthy lines should be solved at the local level by ensuring enough poll booths and workers are available on Election Day.
Landes, who sits on the House Privileges and Elections Committee, said part of the problem is that some voters are uncomfortable with new touch-screen ballots, which can clog lines.
He understands the issues Warner’s bill addresses, but does not support the measure.
“We obviously have seen situations [nationally] where people are voting and they should not be,” Landes said.
“You’ve got to balance the [length of the] process and making sure individuals are not voting if they’re not eligible. … If you’re [registering] the same day, there’s no way to double check. I don’t think that would work.”
Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or firstname.lastname@example.org