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Virginia Voter ID Law Passes State Senate

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The controversial Virginia voter ID bill still needs to be amended in the House and then signed by Gov. Bob McDonell.
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The controversial Virginia voter ID bill still needs to be amended in the House and then signed by Gov. Bob McDonell.

 

A controversial voter ID law just passed the Virginia state senate by one vote, and it's turning heads in the nation's capital. The law could have a huge potential impact in this year's elections, particularly amongst the African-American community, if it's eventually signed into law.

Democrats: Voter ID law disenfranchises

Virginia is one of a handful of states that had a significant spike in African American voter turnout four years ago. A University of Michigan study shows minorities throughout Virginia comprised more than a quarter of the votes cast in 2008 when President Obama won the state. That's a 7 percent increase in minority turnout that Virginia Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly says Republicans are well aware of. 

"They know that the only way they are going to win Virginia is to make sure that his minority voting base doesn t come out," says Connolly. "It's that straightforward and it's that cynical, but the damage to democratic institutions and the damage to the franchise I think will be considerable."

Critics of the law say requiring voters to get an ID is reminiscent of the Jim Crowe days, when poll taxes and literacy tests were demanded of African Americans in Virginia and elsewhere.

Laura Murphy is with the American Civil Liberties Union. She says any impediments to voting, like ID requirements, pose great risks to democracy: "Voting is a much more cherished right and a much more upheld right in our Constitution than any other right. It is protected by the 1st, the 14th, the 15th, the 19th and the 24th and the 26th amendments to the Constitution."

Currently, Virginians can cast a vote without a proper ID, but only after signing a sworn statement. The proposal winding through Richmond would allow them to vote, but the ballot wouldn't be counted until the person returns with a proper ID.

Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner, a former governor, says it seems unnecessary: "I've been involved in elections for a long time in Virginia. I've never heard Democrats or Republicans complain about this prior to this bill coming to the floor."

Republicans: ID measure needed to prevent fraud

The Senate was divided over the measure, so Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling's vote was required to break the tie. Virginia Republican Congressman Morgan Griffith says opponents' arguments seem overblown.

"You know I haven't studied that bill, but instinctively, I don't see a problem with it. You have to produce an ID to do an awful lot, you know, I just don't see it as a big deal."

Conservatives say new voter ID laws like the one being debated in Virginia are needed to avoid mischief. Hans Von Spakovsky is a former Bush Administration official who's now with the conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation. He says besides blocking people from impersonating others, strong voter ID laws are needed to stem fraud.

"It can prevent double voting by people who are registered in more than one state, and also, frankly, it can prevent illegal aliens from registering and voting," says Spakovsky.

A recent Pew Center on the States study shows nearly 2 million deceased people remain on voter registration rolls. It also shows 24 million registrations are invalid or have major inaccuracies on their forms. Virginia Republican Congressman Scott Rigell says he's still studying the Virginia ID proposal, but he says taking steps to preserve the integrity of voting is a good thing.

"A general principle that I think that all Americans would want to bring with respect to the ballot box is that I think it's good and proper to know who's voting and we need to make it as easy as possible for someone to vote," says Rigell.

Opponents say just having the law on the books may deter elderly and low income voters from casting ballots, which is why Senator Warner says he's suspicious of the timing of the stricter ID legislation: "It seems a little curious that this issue kind of dropped out of the sky right before the presidential election."

Two hurdles still remain before the voter ID legislation becomes law. The House of Delegates has to approve changes after the Senate amended their legislation. And it needs the signature of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell whose office says he s waiting for it to reach his desk before he decides whether to veto or support the contentious bill.

 

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