Count Virginia as the newest member of a small pack of states requiring photo identification cards in order to vote. This morning Gov. Bob McDonnell signed into law a new voter ID law that would go into effect in 2014, a crucial election year for congressional seats. The law will have to be approved by the Department of Justice or U.S. District Court since Virginia is a Section 5 state under the Voting Rights Act, due to a history of racial discrimination. The Justice Department approved a voter ID bill law Virginia passed just last year, but on the grounds that the state allowed for a wide range of IDs to vote, not all of them including photos. The law passed this morning restricts acceptable IDs to only drivers licenses, passports or government-issued cards with photos.
Voting rights advocates were highly disappointed, especially given McDonnell's seemingly progressive stance on automatically restoring civil rights for those previously incarcerated with felonies.
"I understand that there are concerns about protecting the integrity of our elections, but part of maintaining that integrity is ensuring that no qualified voters are deprived of their rights. This bill doesn't do that," said Tram Nguyen, Deputy Director of Virginia New Majority. "To change the voter ID law, yet again, within such a short period of time will undoubtedly create unnecessary confusion among voters about which forms of ID are required at the polls. We saw it last November and we may very well see it again this year."
This law comes on the heels of a Virginia report on the election failures in November 2012, citing a lack of resources and poll workers as the cause for punishingly long lines. According to the Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission, a major reason for the problems was that poll workers didn't anticipate the huge turnouts. Not exactly a revelation, but disappointing that the first legislation out the state on election reform doesn't solve the resource problem, but instead narrows the path to the ballot.
"Eliminating previously acceptable forms of identification such as a current utility bill, bank statement or social security card instantly places undue burdens eligible citizens, particularly the poor, the elderly and people of color," said Advancement Project co-director Penda Hair. "Elections must be free, fair and accessible to all eligible voters and these photo ID laws are antithetical to our fundamental democratic ideals. We are working with our partners in Virginia to explore every option available to reverse this terrible piece of legislation."