Thursday, September 18th, 2014

When it comes to voting, Virginia is early to rise and early to bed

A bill that would have given Virginians an extra hour to vote died in the General Assembly.
A bill that would have given Virginians an extra hour to vote died in the General Assembly.

Access to voting booths is being debated in the General Assembly this winter. Most of the attention has focused on Republican efforts to narrow the types of personal identification are acceptable at polls before Virginians are allowed to vote.

But another voting bill -- introduced by Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax --  died quietly in a House Privileges and Elections subcommittee on Jan. 16. It would have extended Virginia’s election days by one hour, so polls would close at 8 p.m.

Filler-Corn, during a Jan. 10 news conference,  said the extra hour would be a convenience for voters returning from their work commutes or running errands. "More than half the states keep their polls open later than the Commonwealth of Virginia," she said.

We wondered whether Filler-Corn’s statement on poll closings was accurate. But after researching the claim, we found it difficult to put Virginia’s voting hours in perspective without considering when Virginia polls open -- a topic Filler-Corn did not address.

So instead of submitting her claim to the Truth-O-Meter, we decided to simply share how Virginia’s voting day -- from the opening to closing of polls -- compares to other states. We consulted lists by the National Association of Secretaries of State as well as Ballotpedia.

Virginia polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.  The Old Dominion is among 20 states with a 13-hour voting window. Only seven state have a longer voting day.

Virginia is an early riser on election days. It is one of only 11 states that opens polls at 6 a.m. The rest open later.

As for closing, 23 states allow voting past Virginia’s 7 p.m. deadline to have cast a ballot or be in line at the polls.

Another four other states close polls at either 7 p.m. or 8 p.m.,depending on where a voter lives.

In Nebraska, closing time is 7 p.m. in the mountain time zone, and 8 p.m. for people in the central time zone, where most people live. In Tennessee, voting stops at 7 p.m. in the central time zone, where most residents live, and 8 p.m. in the eastern time zone. In New Hampshire, polls shut at either 7 or 8 p.m. depending on the locality. In North Dakota, the closing time varies by county. John Arnold, the voting facilitator at the North Dakota Association of Counties, said 52 of the state’s 53 counties close at 7 p.m. while one county closes at 8 p.m.

Altogether, there are 27 states that keep all or some of their polls open later than Virginia. Another 20 close polls at the same time or earlier than Virginia.

Not included in those figures are Washington and Oregon. Residents in those states vote by mail and drop their ballots off at collection centers until 8 p.m. on election days.

Filler-Corn’s bill died because of cost concerns in the House subcommittee. An analysis by the Virginia Department of Planning and Budget said extending election days might entail extra compensation for local election staffs and could require localities to hire more ballot workers.

Filler-Corn told us the additional cost should not stand in the way of of keeping polls open an extra hour.

"I recognize it’s a long day but, really, we have to think importance or making sure all Virginians have the opportunity to exercise their right to vote," she said.

"This is not an extreme idea," she added. "Lots of us work long days, commute and have to pick up kids."

Editors note: We originally posted inaccurate information about which time zone most Nebraska residents live in. We have corrected that mistake in this post.