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Virginia Voter ID Law Tame By National Standards

Registrars look to clear up confusion over voting changes

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A women solicits voter registrations at the 2012 Clarendon Cup in Arlington, Va.
Andrew Fagen: http://www.flickr.com/photos/afagen/7358430070/
A women solicits voter registrations at the 2012 Clarendon Cup in Arlington, Va.

When voters head to the polls on Nov. 6, they will be facing new requirements for identifying themselves as legally registered voters. The "voter ID law" passed earlier this year. Start asking people exactly just what those requirements are, however, and you're likely to get a wide variety of answers.

"It is widely misunderstood," says Arlington County registrar Linda Lindberg. The long list of accepted forms of ID, which includes everything from a utility bill to a Social Security card, is confusing, she says, because people think they need all of them, some of them, or a photo ID. Neither of those is the case.

"They see this laundry list, because that's what is being put out there," says Lindberg. "I would prefer just to tell people, 'Hey, we are going to send people a voter card. That's all you need to bring to the polls. Make it easy on you.'"

This September, every active registered voter in Virginia will receive a registration card in the mail. That's all voters need to cast a ballot. They could also use a driver's license — but they won't actually need one.

"I think this is just grandstanding, quite frankly," says George Mason University professor Michael McDonald. Although the new law creates additional hurdles to vote, it doesn't do much, he explains. Virginia's law outlaws the practice of allowing voters to sign an affidavit if they forgot their ID, a practice so infrequent that the legislative effort seemed more like a political effort than a reform to prevent fraud, according to McDonald.

"It's nowhere on the same level of what we are talking about in places like Pennslyvania, Texas and South Carolina," he says. In McDonald's view, Pennslvania's new ID law may actually change the outcome of the election, while Virginia's law won't amount to much.

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