How Much Have We Lost?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Weekly Column: Expand Early Voting in Virginia

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of December 2, 2016.
Expand Early Voting Now in NOVA

The success of early voting in the 2016 Presidential Election reaffirms my conclusion from visiting 12,000 homes last year – Virginia should expand early voting.

In 2016, I personally knocked on over 12,000 doors and after July 1, using an online secure application form, I helped over 900 voters sign up to vote by mail from their home.  Nearly all of them had no idea they could vote early or vote from home.  The vast majority of these voters did not participate in non-presidential elections (or even some presidential elections) because of a disability, lack of transportation, long commutes or disabled family members that required 24-7 home care.   


This year, early voting exploded.  In 2008, a little over 99,000 Fairfax County residents voted early.  That dropped to 92,000 in 2012, but exploded this year to 120,000.  The same was true in Prince William County.  The reason?  Localities opened more early voting locations and kept them open longer. 

There are two major reasons people do not vote early or by mail.  They do not know they are eligible or voting early in-person is not always convenient.

There is no question that the legislature should pass what’s called “no excuse” early voting.  The State Senate has passed no excuse early voting twice, but the legislation is always killed in the House of Delegates and it is unlikely to pass in the near future.

In the short term, Northern Virginia’s localities need to expand early voting and they can.  

Nearly all voters who ride the Metro’s Yellow, Blue and Orange Lines or the Virginia Railway Express are eligible to vote by mail or vote early because they work outside of the jurisdiction in which they live.  Localities need to set up early voting stations at all Metro and major transit stations.  

If you cross a county line – from Stafford into Prince William, Prince William into Fairfax, or Fairfax into the City of Alexandria – you can vote early by mail or in-person.  If you work day takes you more than eleven hours from home, you can vote early. 

Seniors who have trouble standing in line are eligible to vote early.  So are individuals caring for disabled family members.  All first responders are eligible to vote early or by mail.  

Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford County governments and public schools employ thousands of people.  They need to get early voting information out to their employees.  Social service providers need to ensure that qualified voters receive information.   

Finally, in non-presidential elections, many voters choose not to take time from work to participate in state and local elections.  Our localities should better publicize early voting stations and have longer hours to increase participation.  

Facilitating more early voting will require more election officers and thus more money, but shorter lines and fewer disruptions save all of us time on Election Day and encourages more participation in our democracy.   

It is an honor to serve as your state senator.  Email me at scott@scottsurovell.org if you have any feedback.

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