I appreciated last week’s letter by Max Hall, highlighting the achievements of the Virginia legislature and Gov. [Ralph] Northam, improving the absentee voting process by allowing “no excuse” voting, starting with the November elections. Other new laws broaden the timeframe for ballots to be completed, allow other forms of ID besides a valid driver’s license, and make voting day a state holiday.
While this is all good, it isn’t enough. The requirement for a witness to authorize your signed ballot when submitting an absentee ballot by mail, was not changed. This requirement should be eliminated. According to FVAP.gov (Federal Voting Assistance Program) only four states require witnesses or a notary for absentee ballot submission: Virginia, Alabama, Alaska and Wisconsin.
You might think, what’s the big deal? You can get a family member or neighbor or friend or your mailman to witness your ballot. I would remind all that we are being asked to continue social distancing during this pandemic and many of us live alone. Should we be forced to interact in close proximity to others, in order to exercise our constitutional right to vote?
What about voter fraud? I think the fact that 46 states in the U.S. don’t require witnesses is an indication that it is not a significant concern. In fact, voter fraud in general is highly unusual. As Tammy Patrick, a former election official in Arizona recently stated, “government officials should resist the urge to write off a voting method [mail in ballots] that can make voting more accessible (and in the current case, safer) for thousands of people because of a few isolated incidents … If and when a bank gets robbed or a car gets stolen, we don't stop using banks or cars. We enforce the laws we have in place."
In addition, Virginia should adopt practices now being embraced in other states, such as: prepaid postage on mail ballots; providing an ample number of drop boxes for voters to return ballots in person; and counting ballots as long as they're postmarked by Election Day. All or a combination of these measures would help make it even easier for Virginians to vote and ensure that all votes count.
While simplifying absentee voting is of vital concern, we should find ways to ensure all residents are properly registered to vote and, for those who prefer in-person voting, that they can do so safely. We must prepare now for safe polling places and protecting our poll workers with protective gear (masks, gloves, smocks).
Broad and safe access to voting is not a partisan issue and should not be turned into one. Whether you are an Independent, Democrat or Republican, you should have the right to vote without fear for your health and well being. I hope our elected and civic leaders will take the necessary steps now to ensure that we can.
Ann Caddell Nelson