A key group of state lawmakers signaled today that they are willing to go a little further – but not much further – to tighten Virginia’s voter identification requirements.
A House of Delegates subcommittee that vets all election-related legislation rejected a polarizing proposal (HB1787) to require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls. The panel also turned back a proposal (HB1788) to require applicants to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote.
The two measures were proposed by Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle County, one of two candidates for this year’s Republican nomination for attorney general. The other GOP candidate for that post, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, is carrying similar legislation.
The House panel endorsed only one proposal to tighten voter ID requirements: a measure from Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania County, to reduce the number of acceptable documents voters can show to establish their identity. Cole’s bill (HB1337) would drop from the list a current utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter.
Today’s action comes against the backdrop of a contentious debate over voter identification rules last year, when the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a strict new law requiring voters without proper identification to cast a provisional ballot that wouldn’t be counted until their identity could be verified.
Several speakers told the panel today that the law needs to be tightened still further to prevent voter fraud.
Jessica Parker said that when she went to the polls in Arlington County in November, she found that someone else had voted under her name in 2008. Ultimately she was able to vote, she said, but it took extra time and effort.
A variety of other speakers – representing groups from the League of Women Voters to the NAACP – opposed the photo ID requirement as costly and unnecessary, saying it would disenfranchise minority, elderly and low-income Virginians.
Bell’s measures were rejected on a motion by Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. The panel’s action signals that no new voter ID requirement stricter than Cole’s bill is likely to succeed in this Assembly session.
That will leave a variety of acceptable forms of ID voters can use, including a state-issued voter registration card, a Social Security card, a driver’s license, a concealed handgun permit and a student or employee ID card.