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Photo ID

McDonnell signs bill requiring photo ID for voting

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Voting

Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed legislation requiring voters to present photo ID at the polls.

He will also issue an executive order directing the state Board of Elections to implement a campaign to educate the public on the changes and to help them obtain a photo ID before the 2014 election.

Because of Virginia’s history of racial discrimination, the U.S. Department of Justice will have to approve the proposal before it would become law in 2014.

Senate Bill 1256, sponsored by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, also allows for a free photo ID for those who need a valid photo identification.

“This victory is a long time coming,” said Obenshain, who first introduced Photo ID legislation in 2005. “If we believe that our system of free and fair elections is important, then we need the process to be secure – and just as importantly, we need to instill confidence in the results,” he said.

Obenshain’s measure passed in the Virginia House of Delegates by a 65-34 vote on Feb. 20. Before reaching the House, the bill had advanced in the Senate 21-20, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote.

Under the new law, Virginia would join a handful of states that have strict photo ID laws, including Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have passed similar legislation that is pending.

Supporters said the change protects the integrity of elections but opponents contended it would make it harder for the elderly, poor and minorities to vote.

Claire G. Gastanaga, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said that the legislation has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters throughout the state.

“It will also impose new and unnecessary costs on taxpayers who will foot the bill for new equipment and personnel needed to make free photo IDs available to voters who don’t have one and extensive public education campaigns needed to address the confusion that will surely result from changing our ID requirements again,” Gastanaga said.

Ann Scholl, executive director with Progress VA, a nonprofit liberal civic organization, said it is “simply outrageous that conservative politicians are throwing up new barriers to the ballot box when the commonwealth already has voter ID law that was passed just last year and with a $2 million price tag.”

Elections should be free, fair, and accessible, Scholl said. “SB1256 makes it harder for many Virginians to vote by requiring a specific form of ID which many eligible voters don't possess,” she said.

The cost of the legislation was also debated during the General Assembly session.

The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget estimated it would cost $200,000 a year for four years, beginning with fiscal 2015. A bulk of the cost would pay for a campaign to inform voters about the changes in requirements.

The state spent about $550,000 last year on a marketing campaign to tell voters about the changes to ID requirements made during the 2012 General Assembly session. It spent an additional $1.3 million to issue new voter registration cards to all Virginia voters.

Regarding the photo ID measure, the planning and budget department said the cost of new equipment would be $166,250 as a one-time expense and new voter IDs would cost $3 per card, mailing included. The department estimated that 4,200 Virginia voters would request a photo ID but some groups said more than 870,000 Virginians lack the documentation or photo ID needed to vote under the bill.

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