Virginia Made Voting Easier, But Don’t Expect Turnout To Rise
Virginia Democrats accomplished many things in the 2020 General Assembly session, but they made clear from the outset their biggest goal was making it much easier for more people to vote in the state’s annual elections.
The proof of how important that issue was came from the first bill introduced in the House of Delegates: no-excuse absentee voting.
It was the first of a series of election and voting-related bills Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed a week ago.
Democratic lawmakers were pleased. House Majority Leader Charniele L. Herring (D-Alexandria) praised all concerned for “breaking down barriers to voting,” and Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said the package of bills would help create “more access to the ballot box, not less.”
But will any of the measures Northam signed affect voter turnout or, the bigger question, favor one political party over another?
I asked University of Richmond professor Daniel Palazzolo for his insights.
He said “a more open democracy doesn’t necessarily mean a more vibrant democracy.”
That might come as a shock to partisans, who equate ease of ballot access with more votes cast.
Palazzolo said the laws like expanded early voting, longer voting hours, repealing voter identification requirements and automatic registration do, indeed, expand access. “But,” he said, “laws that expand voter access, by themselves, don’t increase voter turnout.”
The theory of lowering barriers “is compelling,” Palazzolo said.
“Yet, most studies show that voter turnout depends more on the candidates, the issues, and efforts made by candidates and parties to register and mobilize voters than on modest changes in election law.”