Senate committee kills voting reform bill

By Steffanie Atkins
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Democratic leaders are speaking out after a Republican-led Senate committee killed a bill that would allow for more convenient voting options, later hours at the polls and easier absentee voting.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, chaired by Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, whose district includes Rappahannock County, voted 8-5 to shelve the measure introduced by Sen. Mark Herring, D-Leesburg.

Among other things, Senate Bill 1062 would have required the State Board of Elections to find ways to minimize the lines at polling places.

“This past November, Virginians waited up to five hours to vote at some polling locations across our state and that is completely unacceptable,” Herring said in a press release.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., also expressed support for the bill.

“I applaud these efforts on behalf of every Virginia who was forced to wait for hours in the cold on Election Day simply to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Warner said. “That kind of de facto poll tax has no place in today’s society. We need to continue this fight, on both the state and federal levels.”

Warner and U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a fellow Democrat from Northern Virginia, are sponsoring legislation on the federal level. The Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012 would encourage states to pursue voting reforms by offering grants.

SB 1062 would have provided for polls to stay open until 8 p.m. on Election Day. (Under current law, they close at 7 p.m.)

The bill also would have authorized a pilot program to let U.S. military personnel abroad “vote absentee by secure electronic means or other new technologies.”

The eight Republicans on the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee all voted to kill the proposal; the five Democrats on the panel all voted against that motion.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted Thursday on “SB 1062 Elections; reforms to improve voter access to polls.”

The committee voted on a motion that the bill be “passed by indefinitely,” effectively killing it for the session. The motion passed, 8-5.

Voting for the motion were Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, Stephen Martin of Chesterfield, Ralph Smith of Roanoke, Jill Holtzman Vogel of Winchester, Jeffrey McWaters of Virginia Beach, Charles Carrico of Galax, Bryce Reeves of Fredericksburg, and Thomas Garrett of Hadensville.

Voting against the motion were Democratic Sens. Creigh Deeds of Bath County, Phillip Puckett of Tazewell, A. Donald McEachin of Richmond, J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax, and Ralph Northam of Painter.

Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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