Gov. Ralph Northam introduced two legislative proposals at a press conference Monday, Jan. 7, aimed at improving voting access and transparency in the campaign finance system.
One proposal would allow Virginians to vote absentee without having to provide an excuse — legislation the governor said would reduce crowds at the polls on Election Day. The current law, which Northam called “arbitrary,” requires citizens to give one of 20 reasons to vote absentee.
Northam said that voting in the days before an election is “just as American” as waiting in line at the polls and that similar proposals have been made since the 1990s. Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate (SB 1035) and Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, is sponsoring it in the House (HB 1641).
The Democratic governor also endorsed legislation to repeal the Virginia law requiring voters to present a photo ID to be able to cast their vote.
“While photo ID laws are intended to reduce voter fraud, very little such voter fraud actually exists,” Northam said. “Instead of fixing the problem, the photo ID law just makes it harder for people, especially minority voters or low-income voters, to lawfully vote.”
This proposal will be sponsored by Locke and Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax.
The Democrats also want legislation that limits campaign donations and restricts how candidates can spend political contributions.
Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, is sponsoring legislation (SB 1146) that would limit individual donations to $10,000 per candidate during a given election cycle. Virginia is one of only 11 remaining states that have no limits on campaign contributions.
“There’s too much big money in politics,” Petersen said. “We need some reasonable limits on what people can contribute in order to keep the process honest.”
A second proposal to be sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Guzman would ban corporate and business campaign donations. It also would ban corporations or businesses from making direct contributions to their own political action committees.
“Our Commonwealth has an opportunity to reform campaign finance laws by banning direct corporate and business donations,” Guzman stated. “Virginians want legislators who represent their interests, and this reform will foster more trust in the legislative process.”
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, is the sponsor of a bill (HB 1699) to ban candidates from using campaign money for personal expenses.
A spokesman for the Republican Party said GOP officials would not comment on the legislation until they had read over the proposals in full.