Virginia Legislative Session Ends, Revealing Party Election Priorities

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Saturday, Feb. 25, the Virginia General Assembly adjourned its legislative session, the first state to do so in 2023. Virginia is one of only two states in the country with a divided legislature — where each party controls one chamber — and the contrasting bills that passed the Virginia House of Delegates and Virginia Senate reveal the competing priorities for the Democratic and Republican parties in voting and election policy. A few compromises, including a bill to repeal the witness requirement for absentee voting, managed to make it through both chambers and have been sent to the governor.

The bills passed by the Republican-controlled House that failed in the Senate include: 

  • House Bill 1444, which would enact a strict photo ID to vote law, removing “voter confirmation documents,” utility bills, bank statements, government checks and more from the current list of acceptable forms of identification. Additionally, H.B. 1444 would remove the option for voters to sign a sworn affidavit if they lack acceptable ID.
  • House Bill 1693, which would end the use of drop boxes, striking any reference to the convenient and secure boxes from Virginia code. Instead, voters would have to send mail-in ballots through the U.S. Postal Service or drop off to an elections official.
  • House Bill 1877, which would limit in-person early voting to the two weeks immediately before Election Day. Currently, Virginia has one of the most expansive early voting periods in the nation starting 45 days before an election. 
  • House Bill 1947, which would eliminate the state’s permanent mail-in voting list, a system allowing voters to opt-in and automatically receive a mail-in ballot every year. 
  • House Bill 2234, which would eliminate same-day registration except for certain overseas and military voters.

The majority of the bills listed above passed on party-line votes, but none of them moved forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The bills passed by the Senate that failed in the House include:

  • Senate Joint Resolution 223, which would amend the state constitution to automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions upon release from prison. Currently, this rights restoration practice is taking place through executive action, though a strict felony disenfranchisement law remains in the state constitution. 
  • Senate Bill 907, which would permit election officials or election employees to hide their addresses from public lists and expand the penalty for “bribery, intimidation, threats, coercion” that hinder election workers from administering elections.
  • Senate Bill 1180, which would modify Virginia’s onerous regulations on private funding for election administration. S.B. 1180 would maintain that state and local offices cannot accept money from private funds for voter education or outreach programs, but would strike the prohibition on using such funds for “any other expense incurred in the conduct of elections.” This bill would help alleviate the pressure on chronically underfunded election offices.

With such differing priorities, very few election-related bills made it through both chambers. Notably, one of the successful pieces of legislation, House Bill 1948, would repeal the witness requirement for mail-in voting. Virginia is one of only a handful of states that permit any voter to vote by mail, but requires another individual, not just the voter, to sign the mail-in ballot envelope. H.B. 1948 would repeal this witness requirement, and instead replace it with the expectation that voters note their date of birth and last four digits of their Social Security number on their ballot return envelopes. H.B. 1948 would also require election officials to assign every voter with a “unique identifier,” which would be accepted in place of the Social Security number.

Virginia had a Democratic trifecta in 2020 and 2021 until the state’s off-cycle election when Democrats lost the House and the governorship. When Virginia begins its next legislative session in 2024, the composition of both chambers may change again; all legislative seats are up for election in November 2023.