McDonnell proposes election reforms; Dems question commitment
Election reforms were on the mind of Attorney General Bob McDonnell today. Democratic critics of the presumptive ’09 Republican gubernatorial nominee for their part are accusing McDonnell of being a Johnny-come-lately to the election-reform game.
“Democracy is alive and well in Virginia. We saw that clearly this past Election Day with a record number of first-time voters. However, for our democratic process to stay healthy, we must constantly seek prudent reforms and improvements based on what we learn each election,” said McDonnell, whose proposed reforms include reducing the number of registered voters needed to create a voting precinct, to cut down on long lines that stretched for as long as six hours in some locations in Virginia in the Nov. 4 election, and another proposal to allow voters to wear political clothing and campaign-related items while in a polling place.
The ACLU and two Virginia-based free-speech groups are currently challenging a rule handed down by the State Board of Elections in October that subjected people wearing campaign items into polling places to possible arrest. “There is no threat to our system of fair elections when a voter wears a hat or shirt of a specific candidate into a polling place,” said McDonnell, who also is pushing the appointment of a closing official to assist fatigued election officials who have been on hand at the polls for what amounts to a 14-hour shift and two measures related to the processing of absentee ballots.
Democrats questioned McDonnell’s commitment to voter access, noting his opposition as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates to having the state take part in the federal reform known as “motor-voter” that gave people the right to register to vote while doing business at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Bob McDonnell is acting like he’s suddenly seen the light that it’s time to help more Virginians to vote,” said Jared Leopold, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “But Virginians ought to ask whether McDonnell’s ‘Hallelujah moment’ is just a cynical election-year ploy. If Bob McDonnell and Richmond Republicans had their way when they were in charge, thousands of Virginians would not have been able to easily register to participate in the historic 2008 elections.
“We hope Bob McDonnell and the Richmond Republicans really plan on working together to improve voter registration and participation,” Leopold said. “But one press release does not erase a decades-long record of opposing Virginians’ right to vote.”
– Story by Chris Graham