Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday encouraged the General Assembly to pass legislation that would make voting easier by making Election Day a state holiday and allowing early voting for any reason.
“Voting is a fundamental right,” Northam said. “But in a state that once put up tremendous barriers to voting, too many people are still unable to participate meaningfully in our democracy. By making it easier – not harder – to vote, these proposals will ensure we are building a government that is truly representative of the people we serve. I look forward to working with the General Assembly to pass these important measures into law.”
Northam said the commonwealth should remove all unnecessary barriers to voting. He said that making Election Day a state holiday, which would lead to more people having off of work, would be an important step.
The governor’s plan would maintain the same number of state holidays by removing Lee-Jackson Day, which is celebrated on Jan. 17. This holiday was introduced to celebrate Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who were both Confederate generals who fought for the Army of Northern Virginia.
“We propose to add election day as a state holiday and remove Lee-Jackson Day,” Northam said. “Making election day a state holiday will help folks get to the polls.”
Northam said the commonwealth should also have no-excuse absentee voting so that Virginians can vote whenever it is convenient for them. Currently, a person can only vote absentee in Virginia for certain reasons that are defined in the state code. There are 20 reasons on the books, which include attending a college out of state, conducting business outside of state and having a disability or illness. Some reasons require documentation, while others do not.
The governor’s proposal would allow no-excuse absentee voting within 45 days of an election. He said that this would make it easier for people who work long shifts or rely on public transportation to cast a vote. He said that people should be able to vote when it is convenient for them, not just when it is convenient for the state.
“Our democracy relies on equal access to the ballot box,” Secretary of Administration Dr. Keyanna Conner said. “These proposed measures confirm Governor Northam’s commitment to breaking down barriers and ensuring all citizens have the equal opportunity to exercise this constitutional right.”
No-excuse early voting is permitted in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Election day is a public holiday in some states, but it is less common.