Virginia values its traditions. This is true in many aspects of our civic life in the Commonwealth, but perhaps no more so than in the way we conduct our elections. While many other states are willing to experiment with new fangled ideas like early voting or same day registration, Virginia resists change. Virginia likes things just the way they are, thank you very much.
The problem for us is that “just the way they are” often works to exclude people with disabilities.
Virginia was very slow to allow people with disabilities to vote “absentee” if they were unable to get to the polling place. The idea of increased use of absentee voting was just too much of a change. Although the legislature eventually adopted that tiny bit of reform seven years ago, each year the legislature rejects proposals to allow changes like no-excuse absentee voting or even absentee voting for people over the age of 65. Ideas like automatic voter registration when you get a driver’s license (“motor voter” laws) don’t even make it to committee in our legislature.
Most people with disabilities would prefer to have the option to vote on election day, in the same polling place as their neighbors. But that option is not a real one throughout Virginia. In March, dLCV surveyed more than 200 polling places, and found that 24% of the locations we visited had some barrier to voting for people with disabilities. If that percentage bears out across the Commonwealth, it means that hundreds of polling locations are, in some way, inaccessible to people with disabilities.
We recently shared our survey results with the State Board of Elections, with the hope that they will take action to improve opportunities to vote for people with disabilities prior to the general election in November. We will let you know whether they do that, or if they, too, like to keep things “just the way they are.”