Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Elections and democracy

Free speech at the polls? Remember the controversy about political apparel at polling places last November? It was a First Amendment issue that led to a lawsuit by three Virginia free-speech organizations. On Wednesday, Jan. 21 at 5:00 PM the House Privileges & Elections, Campaign Finance Subcommittee will take up HB 1610 and HB 1643. These bills permit individuals to wear buttons or items of apparel that contain a political candidate's name or a political slogan at polling places. Contact members to express your support for free speech. Delegate Landes represents Waynesboro and parts of Augusta, Rockingham, and Albemarle.
Early birds. Yesterday, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections approved a bill that will allow voters to cast ballots before Election Day without providing a specific reason. More than half the states have early voting processes and 321,000 Virginians cast absentee ballots in Virginia last November, many in-person. This legislation will make it easier for individuals to vote early without meeting one of 17 specific reasons.
Supporters of the legislation include Governor Tim Kaine, the ACLU, and Nancy Rodrigues, secretary of the State Board of Elections who testified, "The reality is this is the United States of America and we can provide other alternatives." Rodrigues also noted that some voters currently "shop" for an acceptable reason forcing registrars into the difficult role of judging if it fits into one of the 17 currently allowed. 
Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) voted against the bill citing "the integrity of the system." We'll probably hear more of that Republican sound bite if the bill makes it to the House of Delegates. They have already killed a similar bill and have shown little inclination to make voting more accessible.

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