Virginia Republicans pass new voter ID restrictions

Voter casts a ballot in Fairfax County, Virginia
Voter casts a ballot in Fairfax County, Virginia
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

New legislation passed by Republicans Tuesday is set to further restrict the list of acceptable documents voters may use to cast ballots in Virginia, changing voting rules in Virginia for the second time in just two years.

Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 1337, which passed the Senate and House of Delegates on largely party line votes, will severely restrict the number of acceptable forms of voter identification.

Virginia Republicans passed a voter ID bill last year as well. That law made ID mandatory for the first time in Virginia history, but created a relatively long list of acceptable forms of ID. Because of all the identification options available, the law was seen as one of the less egregious forms of voter ID passed in the recent onslaught of proposed voter suppression legislation.

Republican Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling had cast the tie breaking vote against similar legislation that came out of the Senate Monday, because the bill would have imposed new restrictions during 2013. These changes are not set to take effect until 2014.

“I think [the bill] is a reasonable effort to tighten voter identification requirements and assure greater integrity in the voting process,” Bolling said in a statement about the earlier version of the bill. “However, we just changed Virginia’s voter ID requirements in 2012, and we cannot change these requirements every year.  I am concerned that this would create unnecessary confusion among voters about what forms of ID are required at the polls.”

Democrats are largely opposed to the law, likening it to Jim Crow.

“There are people, mostly elderly, many of them but not all poor, who do not have any of these IDs that will be left, because they don’t drive anymore because they don’t have a valid driver’s license, they don’t have a concealed weapons permit,” Del. Jennifer McClellan, a Richmond Democrat, told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. “All they have is the voter registration card sent by the state.”

McClellan also pointed out that these laws create barrier to vote despite the fact there is almost no evidence of voter impersonation fraud in Virginia.

The Senate and House versions of the new ID laws now need to be reconciled in a conference committee. The major difference is a contingency clause that requires taxpayer funded voter education plan before the new law can take effect. The commonwealth spent nearly $2 million educating voters about last year’s voter ID law.

Assuming the House and Senate can find common ground on their difference, the legislation would head to Bob McDonnell for his signature.

A third voter ID law being considered would further restrict identification options, by removing any non-photo ID from the list of acceptable documents.