RICHMOND – Virginians looking to cast their votes after July 1, 2014, will have to present a photo identification card at the polls under a bill that passed the General Assembly today.
Senate Bill 1256 requires a photo ID card – such as a driver’s license or student ID card issued by a university – to vote. If someone does not have photo ID, the measure requires the local registrar’s office to provide one.
The bill passed the House today largely along party lines and still requires approval from Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Opponents argued the change is a thinly veiled voter-suppression effort and will place an undue burden on voters who are elderly or poor.
For example, Del. Bob Krupicka, D-Fairfax County, said someone living at the far end of his district would have to travel more than two hours by bus one way to obtain a voter ID from the registrar there.
“To fulfill the obligations under this bill, we are telling someone who’s poor or someone who’s elderly that they have to spend upwards of seven hours of a day to travel across Fairfax County to get their ID and travel back,” Krupicka said. “I would say that that is a burden higher than we ask of anyone else to vote. It is a burden higher than we should ask of anyone else to vote.”
Others likened the bill to Jim Crow-era laws aimed at keeping blacks from voting and said it could end up costing as much as $21 million.
“Any bill that places any barriers to someone exercising their fundamental right to vote is anathema to many citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia who fought and were terrorized and in some cases died to exercise that right,” said Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.
But proponents of the measure said the sanctity of that right is why it’s so important to ensure it’s not abused, and that those casting ballots are eligible to vote and not usurping someone else’s identity.
“There is no one on this side of the aisle trying to deny anyone the right to vote,” said Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas. “We are trying to uphold the integrity of the system by ensuring that those who vote are allowed to vote and that people are not cheating the system. That is simple concept.”
Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, said Virginia State Police investigated 194 founded cases of voter fraud in 2012. He also said voter turnout has improved in Georgia, which began requiring a photo ID to vote in 2006, including for black and Latino voters.
SB1256 is the most far-reaching change to the state’s electoral process this year. The Assembly already has passed legislation requiring training for organizers of voter registration drives and removing Social Security cards, bank statements and other documents from those potential voters may present to confirm their identity.
The House today also passed SB1577 requiring voter registrars to compare their list of registered voters with a federal database of immigrants residing in the country illegally. Opponents argued the database is “riddled with errors” and could disenfranchise Virginians who formerly lived here illegally but have since attained citizenship.
-Kathy Adams, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot