Virginia legislation would allow deployed troops to email vote

By BILL SIZEMORE | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: February 10, 2014

Virginia's General Assembly - especially the Republican-controlled House of Delegates - has been slow to embrace the idea of electronic voting.

But it appears a small window may be opening up for one class of citizens to vote by email: military service members who are deployed overseas.

Under current law, they must follow the same procedure as anyone else who is absent on Election Day: Obtain an absentee ballot, fill it out and send it in by snail mail.

That can be difficult, if not impossible, for service members in active combat zones.

Legislation moving through the Assembly would allow those voters' ballots to be returned by email. One such measure (SB11) introduced by Sen. Linda "Toddy" Puller, D-Fairfax County, has passed the Senate unanimously.

A similar bill from Sen. Jeff McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, was incorporated into Puller's.

The Puller bill would allow email voting by overseas service members after Jan. 1.

The House isn't ready to move quite that quickly.

Legislation (HB759) from Del. Tom Rust, R-Fairfax County, would potentially set up a system of email voting for overseas military members in time for the 2016 presidential election.

Rust told a House committee Friday that 30 other states have put such systems in place.

Members of the panel peppered him with questions and concerns about email voting.

"We've never allowed it before," Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, said. "This is new territory to embark on."

Most of the concerns centered on making sure emailed ballots would be secured against hacking.

Del. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach, a co-patron of Rust's bill, said the system would have security features similar to the technology used for wiring money online.

The bill calls for the State Board of Elections to establish a working group to develop the system and report back to the Assembly by Jan. 1, 2016.

The measure was unanimously approved by the committee with the proviso that it must be re-enacted by the 2016 Assembly to become law.

It now advances to the full House.

Bill Sizemore, 804-697-1560, bill.sizemore@pilotonline.com


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