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Bill Allowing Voter Drop Off Boxes Closer To Governor’s Desk

voting sign
Virginia voters may be able to drop off their absentee ballots at drop boxes ahead of the November elections. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Voting along party lines, the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates both passed identical bills that would allow localities to create drop-off locations for absentee ballots.

The bills also propose allocating $2 million to the Virginia Department of Elections to fund prepaid postage for ballot returns -- part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget proposal from earlier in the month. They still need to swap chambers before they reach his desk.

The legislation drew heated debate in the General Assembly this week. Senate Republicans slammed the bill as expensive and unnecessary, citing pre-existing infrastructure for voting over the mail. They also raised security concerns.

“You’re gonna have community organizers -- partisans on the far right and the far left -- canvassing and harvesting votes,”  Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) said. 

Democratic Senators voted down a Republican amendment Thursday that would have required voters to deposit their own ballots.

Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover) also raised concerns about people tampering with the drop boxes: “If you’re not able to determine what was in that box before it got destroyed, it could change an election.”

Numerous reports -- including one from a voting integrity commission launched by President Donald Trump’s administration -- have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Democrats pointed out that more than 30 states have voted to allow drop-off boxes, and said the drop boxes are needed to ensure safe voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) argued the system was secure.

“Department best practices require that only election officials or election officers have keys to secure ballot containers. The bill requires the Department of Elections to add even more safeguards as they deem appropriate,” Locke said.

Despite voting in favor, Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond City) also expressed criticism of the bill.

“There are a myriad of ways that you can already vote, including a box that’s called the United States Post Office box. You also can mail it in with a stamp. You can go to the registrar’s office within the 45 day period. We have no-excuse voting now,” Morrissey said. “You don’t need this extra box.”

The USPS warned earlier this month that some mail-in ballots in 46 states, including Virginia, may arrive too late to be counted for the November election due to a lack of resources and funding.

“It’s been a disaster, what’s happening to the U.S. Postal Service. So the idea of voting by mail? It may not get there in time,”  Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) said. 

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, almost 440,000 Virginians have requested mail-in ballots -- almost twice the amount requested for the 2016 elections.

Absentee voting begins Sept. 19. Virginia voters are no longer required to provide an excuse to vote absentee, after a law passed during the legislative session earlier this year.

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