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Virginia prepares for new voter photo ID law

Virginia prepares for new voter photo ID law

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State election officials prepare for new photo ID law

With implementation of Virginia’s new voter ID law seven months away, state election officials are scrambling to affordably create a photo ID card that will be provided to voters for free.

They also are gearing up to educate the public about the law that will take effect July 1.

The state is organizing a marketing campaign and vetting vendors charged with the creation of a voter identification card that will meet requirements under the new law, according to a plan and timeline developed by the State Board of Elections.

The new ID will be available in July for voters who do not have other acceptable forms of identification. Other acceptable forms of photo ID include a Virginia driver’s license, a U.S. passport or any other photo ID issued by the United States, Virginia or one of its political subdivisions, a student ID issued by any institute of higher learning in Virginia or any employee identification card.

Voters who need the new ID card can apply for the card with their local registrars in a process similar to obtaining a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“An individual will provide their information and the actual information will be captured, provided to the vendor (in charge of producing the ID), created and then mailed to the voter,” said Don Palmer, secretary of the elections board.

The IDs will likely not be printed at the registrars’ offices to assure statewide uniformity.

“If we are working through a vendor like other state agencies, we know what the quality of the ID is,” Palmer said.

Susan Lee, the agency’s election uniformity manager, said that the new IDs will be for voter identification only and cannot be used for anything else. “It will not have precinct-specific information,” she said. “The voters will continue to receive the (voter registration) card that they currently do, which provides their precinct information.”

As poll taxes are unconstitutional, states with voter ID laws must provide photo identification to voters for free. An executive order issued by Gov. Bob McDonnell states that the production of such IDs in “an effective and timely manner is essential for a smooth implementation” of the new law.

McDonnell signed Senate Bill 1256 — the photo ID bill sponsored by state Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, in March. Obenshain, the Republican nominee for state attorney general, currently trails Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, by 165 votes and is seeking a recount.

Under the new law, documents that do not contain a photograph of the voter are no longer acceptable forms of identification when a person is voting in person.

The new law allows voters without photo ID to cast a provisional ballot but they must present identification to their local electoral board within four days following the election for their vote to be counted.

Republican Charles E. Judd, chairman of the elections board, said a few more than 3,000 provisional ballots were cast statewide in the Nov. 5 election. He said fewer than 200 of those were cast because of questions about the current voter ID rules on the books.

Many provisional ballots were cast because of questions about the voter’s registration or proper polling place.

“I think that’s worthy of note,” Judd said. “I think that the voter ID issue is not as big as some might make it.”

Controversial legislation

With the new law in effect, Virginia will be one of 12 states that require voters to show some form of photo identification at the polls. About a dozen other states are pursuing similar legislation.

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, some of the states pushing new photo identification requirements — mainly Southern states, including Virginia — were required to obtain federal preclearance before changing voting laws because of the states’ history of racial discrimination.

But in July, in the case Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act and its formula for requiring preclearance as unconstitutional based on current conditions. The court said that while such oversight was needed in 1965, Congress would have to re-establish the need to require such clearance today. Congress has not done so.

Republicans applauded the ruling, stating that photo ID requirements help to protect the integrity of the electoral process.

Democrats and several civic groups opposed the implementation of the new photo ID law, arguing that it will make it more difficult to vote.

“We remain deeply concerned whether the so-called ‘free ID’ program can or will be implemented in a way that preserves the Virginia constitutional mandate that we have a uniform system of voting across the commonwealth,” said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia.

Another concern is whether the program will be implemented in a way that does not adversely affect the voting rights of minorities, people with mobility limitations, people dependent on public transportation, and others who may have difficulty accessing free IDs at registrars’ offices that may be far from their homes, Gastañaga said.

In response to the ACLU, Palmer said election officials are looking into procuring mobile devices that will enable registrars and their staffers to visit voters who are unable to travel at their homes, or set up booths at public events, such as fairs or political forums, where voters can file their paperwork and have their pictures taken.

“It will be a Web-based system that can be used anywhere,” Palmer said. “Registrars could even go to nursing homes and help people register for the ID,” he said.

Implementation in four phases

Election officials have divided the implementation process in four phases. Each phase will have a training element in which the elections board and the selected vendor will work with Virginia’s 133 localities and staff to ensure uniformity statewide, according to the implementation plan.

In the initial phase, the state in April began soliciting information from vendors for how to gather information and data from voters for the IDs.

“The purpose was to help staff become aware of possible technology that could be used in the implementation of this plan,” Lee said. “What we are looking for is a device that will capture the ID and the signature of the voter and then that information is going to be passed for the purpose of printing the card and mailing it.”

The state sought vendor bids for the procurement of cameras, signature capture devices, and necessary software, as well as proposals for the vendor printing and shipping the identification cards.

Palmer said the main tool for registrars to capture the information will most likely will be software driven.

“Even though we will provide some sort of hardware — laptop, desktop — or some other device, the software will actually work on any computer,” he said.

Election board staff also began with training the 133 general registrars, electoral boards and their staff members on the pending changes relating to voter identification and how this will affect their offices and the conduct of elections.

In the second phase, beginning in January, the state will procure the equipment utilizing funds appropriated in the state’s budget for fiscal year 2014. After the selection of a vendor, the equipment will be distributed to each general registrar. Training sessions will help local staffers prepare.

State election officials will also develop criteria for who is eligible to receive a voter identification card.

The next phase begins in April, when state election officials will work to ensure that all of the general registrars’ offices are prepared and equipped with the infrastructure and guidance necessary to provide ID cards in a convenient, timely manner.

After July 1, the state board will launch the final phase with a post-implementation evaluation. The elections board will canvass the localities to evaluate the initial successes and the shortcomings of the new law.

Educating the public

As registrars’ offices are learning to process the new ID, the board will start a statewide campaign to inform voters of the changes in law. It will be similar to last year’s outreach plan with the theme “Are you Election Ready?” which began with information included in voter registration card mailings to Virginia voters in 2011 and 2012 as part of the redistricting process.

“The voter outreach component is designed to complement (the governor’s) executive order and communicate the changes that photo identification is required as of July 1, 2014, and that a provisional ballot process is in place otherwise,” said Nikki Sheridan, policy adviser with the elections board.

The new campaign’s goal is “to communicate the forms of acceptable photo ID, and that voters may obtain a free photo ID if they are not currently in possession of an acceptable one,” Sheridan said.

The state board has set aside a budget of $200,000 per year from fiscal year 2015 to 2017 for the outreach program.

In the 2012 program, the state was divided into five regions, using various promotional tools, including print, radio, billboards, bus shelters, bus ads and television to inform voters of the changes of the law.

The state will also partner and coordinate with groups across the political spectrum, including the NAACP, Virginia New Majority, Progress Virginia and Americans for Prosperity.

“The bottom line is, we plan to communicate to all Virginia voters what is required, when it is required, what will work and how to get an ID when you don’t have one,” Sheridan said.

(804) 649-6537

Twitter: @MSchmidtRTD

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