Proposed bill could increase voter turnout in Virginia

Local News

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WFXR) — A proposed bill could make it easier for some in Virginia to get to the polls.

Delegate Joseph Lindsey is introducing a bill in the General Assembly that would eliminate the Commonwealth’s Lee-Jackson holiday and establish Election Day as a holiday.

He introduced the same bill during last year’s legislative session, which failed in the sub-committee. All Republicans voted no, and both Democrats voted yes, but now, his party is heading into the majority.

“The percentage of the turnout of the last presidential, 2016, for the City of Lynchburg was about 60 percent,” said Christine Gibbons, the Director of Elections in Lynchburg.

That about matches the national average, but it’s less than the 65 percent turnout in New Jersey, a state with the same annual election structure as Virginia.

In New Jersey, Election Day is a holiday.

“If we make that day a holiday, maybe more people would turn out and we could have higher numbers,” said Gibbons. “It may be able to take some of the barriers away for some people who have to work or their work schedule makes it very difficult for them to get there.”

For some voting rights advocates, there’s not enough proof that it would work.

“The League of Women Voters does not have an official position on that topic,” said Carla Heath, the President of the League of Women Voters of Lynchburg. “It is not something the League has studied and therefore come to a consensus about.”

A holiday recognized by Virginia would only apply to public employees. Private employers aren’t required to close or offer time off.

“The League supports anything that would increase voter turnout,” said Heath. “Whether making election day a holiday would actually do that, we don’t know.”

Employees in emergency services or the service industry often work on holidays, but Gibbons says the Commonwealth is taking steps in 2020 to make it easier to vote absentee.

“There are some laws that are changing coming up this year that will be early voting no excuse, and you don’t have to have a qualifying reason to vote absentee.”

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