With the tie-breaking vote of Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, the Virginia Senate today approved, along party lines, a voter identification bill that would eliminate several forms of ID currently accepted at the polls.
Senate Bill 719, sponsored by Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, would not go into effect until 2014 and stipulates a voter education component -- the result of a Democratic amendment the chamber adopted Monday, also thanks to Bolling's tie-breaking vote.
The Senate legislation, and a companion measure -- House Bill 1337, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, which cleared the House of Delegates today on a 63-36 vote -- would eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver's license and student ID card.
If passed and signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell, it would be the second significant change to voter identification requirements in two years.
Last year, legislation passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and signed into law by McDonnell expanded the number of acceptable forms of ID, but required voters without approved identification to cast provisional ballots until they verify their identity. The McDonnell administration spent roughly $2 million to educate voters on last year's change.
Opponents of the legislation say last year's law and this year's proposed ID restrictions would adversely impact the ability of voting-eligible minorities, the elderly, students and poor people to cast ballots.
Many Democrats have expressed concerns that the bills would limit the ability of many Virginians to vote.
“There are a lot of people who do not drive, do not have a concealed handgun permit, who are retired and do not have any form of employee identification,” said Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond. “All these people have is their voter registration card.”
McClellan also said that there are few known cases of voter fraud that would justify further ID restrictions. “We do not have any evidence of a lot of people showing up at the polls, pretending to be someone else,” she said.
Del. Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond, said Republicans are trying to create obstacles to make voting more difficult. “This legislative session, House Republicans have defeated every single measure to make voting more accessible for qualified Virginia voters,” McQuinn said. “[They] have blocked legislation to institute an early voting period, expand No-Excuse Absentee voting, extend voting hours and a host of other bills to improve access to the ballot box,” she said.
Cole defended his proposal by saying that it was designed to make the voting process more secure for all Virginians. “My bill takes a lot of weak forms of identification off the list,” he said.
Cole also said that voters without proper ID are not barred from the polls. “People without ID can cast a provisional ballot and present identification at a later time,” he said.
Later today, the Senate will vote on an even more contentious piece of Voter ID legislation, which would require voters to present photo ID at the polls to cast a ballot. A similar bill died earlier this session in the House of Delegates.