Political News

Virginia governor makes Election Day a holiday and expands early voting

Posted April 12, 2020 3:57 p.m. EDT
Updated April 12, 2020 4:41 p.m. EDT

— Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Sunday that he signed a series of new measures into law aimed at expanding access to voting in the commonwealth.

The new legislation will establish Election Day as a holiday, remove the requirement that voters show a photo ID prior to casting a ballot and, expand early voting to be allowed 45 days before an election without a stated reason.

"Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder," Northam said in a statement. "No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I'm proud to sign these bills into law."

Several states and cities have already made Election Day a civic holiday, including Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky and New York. State offices typically close, though it depends on the state whether employees are entitled to paid time off to vote.

Proponents say making Election Day a holiday could improve voter turnout. But Election Day may not become a federal holiday anytime soon -- it's drawn deep division along party lines.

In January 2019, Democrats proposed a sweeping bill that would make Election Day a national holiday among other measures. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the measure would pay government workers to "hang out at the polls during an election" or campaign for candidates.

The new legislation also repeals the current Lee-Jackson day holiday which honored Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson as "defenders of causes." Both men owned slaves and fought to preserve slavery in the US.

The holiday is typically observed with Civil War-themed parades, wreath layings and reenactments hosted by Confederate memorial groups, though these celebrations are increasingly unpopular. Defenders of the holiday say it honors Virginia history.

"We need to make Election Day a holiday," Northam had said in his State of the Commonwealth speech earlier this year.

"We can do it by ending the Lee-Jackson holiday that Virginia holds ... It commemorates a lost cause. It's time to move on."

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