Miller seeks simpler absentee voting

Published 9:35 pm Monday, April 16, 2012

By Chanee Patterson

Capital News Service

A state legislator wants to make it easier for Virginians who can’t go to the polls on Election Day to obtain an absentee ballot.

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Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, whose district includes a portion of Suffolk, has proposed that voters be able to request and receive an absentee ballot by email. They still would have to return the completed ballot by regular mail or by hand.

Currently, only voters who are in the military or are overseas can use email to request and receive an absentee ballot from Virginia election officials.

During the General Assembly’s 2012 regular session, Miller sponsored a bill to allow any registered voter to use email to apply for an absentee ballot.

Under Senate Bill 188, if election officials approve the application, they could email the voter an absentee ballot. The voter then would print out the ballot, mark his or her choices, and submit it by regular mail.

SB 188 passed the Senate but failed in a House subcommittee. Miller says he’ll push for it again next year.

“In Virginia, you cannot be emailed the ballot,” Miller noted. Instead, election officials must send absentee ballots by snail-mail. That’s expensive, wastes paper and requires a lot of employees, the senator said.

“It costs $1 for each absentee ballot sent out,” Miller said. “We could save half a million (dollars) by using electronic applications.”

In the 2008 presidential election, about 507,000 Virginians voted absentee.

Certain state officials aren’t the only people clamoring for the General Assembly to make it easier to vote absentee.

In February, members of the Student Government Association at Virginia Commonwealth University presented their legislative priorities to state lawmakers. Student leaders also were in favor of SB 188.

“This bill will provide Virginians with easier access to absentee ballots and therefore easier access to voting in all elections,” said Tiffini Smith, an SGA officer. “It would allow military families and college students to receive absentee ballots electronically, which is vital to getting a greater and better represented response in elections.”

Many states go much further than Virginia is contemplating in accommodating absentee voting. In Colorado, Mississippi and a dozen other states, voters can actually cast absentee ballots by email, according to the Federal Voting Assistance Program’s website.

In Mississippi, for example, a voter can email his absentee ballot “as a signed, scanned attachment” to election officials.