Northam signs bills aimed at making early voting easier in Virginia

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a series of election-related bills Monday aimed at making it easier to cast a ballot, particularly for people who vote early.

One of the more significant changes Northam signed off on allows local election officials to open polling places on Sundays during the early-voting period ahead of elections.

“We cannot take civil rights, especially voting rights, for granted,” Northam said. “Sometimes we don’t think about what goes on behind the scenes to how we make these elections and how they are done safely and responsibly in Virginia.”

The legislation requires localities to offer drop-off locations for absentee ballots, and polling places will need to have a ballot marking tool with screen reader assistive technology available for absentee voters affected by blindness or other visual impairments

Absentee restrictions that affected first-time voters have been repealed, meaning first-time voters will now be allowed to register for an absentee ballot through the mail.

“On behalf of Virginia, to all of the advocates for voting rights, I thank you,” Northam said. “We are blessed to have great senators and delegates who get up every day and do what’s in the best interest of Virginia.”

Another change included in the legislation clarifies that any voter with a physical disability or injury is entitled to vote outside of their polling place. The area designated for voting outside must be clearly marked, and instructions on how the voter is to notify an election officer of their request to vote outside must be prominently displayed.

Other Democratic states also are acting to remove restrictions to the ballot, in marked contrast to many Republican-controlled states that are moving in the opposite direction. Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Iowa have already passed restrictive voting laws; Ohio and Texas are considering their own.

More than 800 bills have been filed in 47 states this year with provisions that would expand voting rights, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy group that advocates for voting access. A majority of the proposals focus on absentee voting, while others are meant to make it easier to register to vote or restore voting rights for those with prior criminal convictions.

Democrats in Maryland passed several bills aimed at making voting easier this year. One wide-ranging bill created a permanent list that any voter can join to automatically get an absentee ballot before each election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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