The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Lawmakers weigh two voter ID bills
BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND—The full House of Delegates will vote next week on a bill requiring Virginians to present a photo ID to vote.
The House Appropriations committee on Friday approved Sen. Mark Obenshain’s bill, which says voters must be able to show identification with their photograph on it, such as a driver’s license, a passport or a student ID with a photo.
Meanwhile, a bill by Del. Mark Cole tightening voter ID restrictions—but not requiring a photo ID—passed the Senate on Friday.
Cole’s bill removes utility bills, paychecks and Social Security cards from the list of identification that can be used to vote. Voter registration cards, student IDs, employee IDs, concealed handgun permits or a photo ID would still be valid identification for voting.
With Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling breaking tied votes, the Senate attached to Cole’s bill the same amendments it earlier put on Obenshain’s bill, delaying the bill’s enactment for a year and requiring the state to appropriate the money to pay for it before it can go into effect.
Sen. John Edwards, D–Roanoke, objected to the purpose of Cole’s bill, as he has Obenshain’s and other bills this year that tighten voter ID requirements.
He said the state only last year changed the rules for what kind of identification voters could use, and spent money on educating voters on the new requirements.
“There’s absolutely no evidence whatsoever that in Virginia there’s been any misuse of this,” Edwards said.
He called it “simply a voter suppression bill.”
Democrats say that requiring a photo ID will make it harder for minorities, the elderly and the poor—populations with a lower rate of having a photo ID like a driver’s license—to vote.
Republicans say that even without evidence of widespread voter fraud, the state should take steps to limit the potential for fraud.
Sen. Dick Black, R–Loudoun, said his legislative aide was able, in about 20 minutes, to make a realistic-looking bill from the Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative that had McDonnell’s name and address instead of Black’s.
“I cannot with a microscope detect the slightest falsification of that document,” Black told the Senate. “This is big enough to drive a truck through. It is a disaster waiting to happen. I think there is increasing doubt within the public about the integrity of the voting system.”
The Senate vote on Cole’s bill was 20-20, with Bolling breaking the tie. Because it was amended, it will go back to the House.
Cole’s bill would be rendered effectively moot, though, if lawmakers pass Obenshain’s bill, as it requires a photo ID for voting.
Under Senate amendments, Obenshain’s bill wouldn’t take effect until 2014 and then only if the state appropriates the money to pay for it.
All told, Obenshain’s bill is estimated to cost the state about $854,000. The bill requires local registrars to provide, for free, a photo ID to voters who don’t have one. The state Department of Planning and Budget estimates that will cost about $166,000 in the first year for registrar offices to buy necessary equipment—cameras, software, IT hardware, estimated to cost about $1,250 for each locality.
The bill is also estimated to cost more than $200,000 a year through fiscal year 2017 for a “long-term and sustained PR campaign” in the years leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Presidential elections see the highest voter turnout.
“Educating voters about the new ID requirements during each of the lower turnout elections in 2014 and 2015 will help ensure most voters are aware of the changes by the November 2016 general election,” said the fiscal impact statement.
The state Board of Elections estimates that about 4,300 voters annually would request IDs from registrars during the first three years, with that number jumping to 12,322 in the presidential election year. The SBE estimates the cost would be about $3 per card.
Those estimates are based on what happened in Georgia when that state implemented a photo ID requirement; the report says that Georgia and Virginia have similar numbers of voters and demographics.
An advocacy group opposing the photo ID requirement, the Commonwealth Institute, recently put out a report estimating the costs would be much higher, based on a Department of Motor Vehicles cost of $22 for processing driver’s licenses and the group’s predictions that more people than the state estimates don’t have an appropriate photo ID with their current name and address on it.
If Obenshain’s bill passes both houses, it must go to the governor; if he signs it, it would still have to be approved by the Department of Justice, due to Virginia’s history of racial discrimination.
Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245