When I decided to run for office for the first time in 2013, I needed to print out dozens of paper petition forms and collect at least 125 signatures from registered voters in the 53rd House District. I had to show I was a serious and committed candidate and have my name appear on the primary ballot.
I collected them in person at the Falls Church Farmer’s Market, at Democratic party events and meetings, and by going door to door introducing myself to voters on their doorstep. In addition to my thanks, every signer got a firm politician’s handshake.
This week, I filed my paperwork to run for reelection. Some of my petition signatures were collected at a socially distanced outdoor patio event, but the majority were signed electronically by voters I never got to meet or thank. Even the folks that came out to the patio got an elbow bump this year in lieu of handshake.
The pandemic has changed the way we work, play, learn, and how we conduct elections. In some of those areas, I, like many of you, can’t wait to get back to normal. My kids are thrilled to return to school a few days a week and make contact with “other humans” as they put it. (I guess Rachel and I don’t count). Some of the changes, though, are likely to remain with us even after the last waves of the pandemic are behind us.
Many of the changes we implemented here in Virginia to make voting easier during a pandemic actually just make voting easier. And that’s a good thing. In the last two sessions, we passed historic voting legislation aimed at expanding access and strengthening voter rights.
During my 2013 election, voting access was limited – you either voted in-person on Election Day or voted absentee as long as you had an “appropriate” excuse. The 2021 Election will look dramatically different.
Last year, we started allowing no-excuse absentee voting. This year, we updated the procedures on when registrars can start processing those ballots.
For the elderly or those that aren’t physically able to enter a polling place, they can now take advantage of curbside voting. This provision is extended during a declared state of emergency related to a public health threat, like the one we are in now. Or you can simply drop your ballot in a ballot box outside the polling location or registrar’s office.
Local electoral boards and registrars can now offer voting on Sundays and Election Day is a state holiday.
To keep voters and poll workers safe, we’ve prohibited anyone from carrying a firearm within a polling place or within forty feet of the building.
Safeguarding against last minute tech glitches, there is now a provision to extend the voter registration deadline if the state system crashes. Sixteen-year-olds can preregister to vote.
Starting October 2022, we’ll have same day voter registration, which means you’ll be able to register to vote at any point up until Election Day.
Automatic voter registration is also available – anyone applying for or renewing a driver’s license or identification card at the DMV will automatically have this information shared with the Department of Elections for voter registration purposes.
We even passed a bill giving localities the option of using ranked choice voting in their local elections. In this process, voters rank candidates in order of preference with succeeding tabulation rounds until the number of candidates elected equals the number of offices to be filled.
Of all the election-related bills we passed this year, the most notable is the Virginia Voting Rights Act. Virginia became the first southern state to pass such an Act, prohibiting any discriminatory voting practices in the Commonwealth.
Although it won’t be active this year, it is worth noting that we passed the first reference for a Constitutional Amendment on the right to vote and for allowing the automatic restoration of rights for former felons. This measure must also pass during the 2022 Session and then it will be included on the ballot in 2022 for voters to decide.
One thing that hasn’t changed in the years since my first election is my commitment to representing our community. With your support, we’ve accomplished so much in the past few years and I’m looking forward to what we can do next.