Panel keeps voter ID requirement

Published 9:01 pm Tuesday, January 17, 2017

By Tyler Hammel

VCU Capital News Service

A legislative subcommittee killed an attempt Tuesday to repeal Virginia’s requirement that voters show a photo ID at the polls.

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A subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee voted to shelve HB 1904, which would have eliminated the mandate that registered Virginia voters present a driver’s license, passport or other government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

Republicans say the photo ID requirement prevents voter fraud. But the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Del. Steve Heretick of Portsmouth, said it prevents people from voting.

“We can’t point to any incidence of voter fraud that any registrar, that anyone on the Board of Elections, that anyone can point to,” Heretick said.

However, Clara Belle Wheeler, vice chairwoman of the State Board of Elections, disputed that.

“I can tell you there are people who will try to vote twice. The law is very clear: It is one vote, one person. Period,” Wheeler said. “When someone votes twice, they disenfranchise someone who votes once.”

Wheeler said states with voter photo ID laws have a higher electoral participation from “all people living in that state, no matter their race, their creed or their ethnic origin.”

Heretick disagreed. He cited studies showing that racial minorities, young adults and individuals who make less than $25,000 a year are less likely than other people to have a photo ID.

“I think we all understand why these bills exist. Unfortunately, I think there are better ways to administer elections than imposing these additional requirements on both voters and registrars,” Heretick said.

His bill would have allowed Virginians to vote by showing their voter registration card or “a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.”

Voter photo ID laws have been a point of contention between Democrats and Republicans in many states. Federal courts recently held that laws passed by Texas and North Carolina violated the Voting Rights Act.

The Virginia General Assembly passed the state’s photo ID law in 2013. In December, a federal judge upheld it as constitutional.

During his State of the Commonwealth address last week, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe urged the General Assembly to repeal the law.

The Elections Subcommittee of the House Privileges and Elections Committee killed Heretick’s bill on a voice vote.

The subcommittee also voted to “pass by indefinitely” two other bills that would have made voting easier:

HB 1462, introduced by Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Arlington, would have allowed students to present out-of-state university student IDs to vote in Virginia.

HB 1953, sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, would have allowed voters to present a photo ID from a state-run nursing home.

Opponents of the bills noted that registered voters can receive free photo ID cards from the state.

Bill Jenkins, a registrar from Sussex County, said Virginia college students attending out-of-state schools should vote absentee by mail.

Jenkins said that if a student doesn’t have a Virginia driver’s license or an ID from a Virginia college, “you just might not be a real resident of Virginia. I have a radical solution: People who are not home can vote absentee.”

Virginians who vote absentee by mail do not have to show a photo ID. However, that could change. The Elections Subcommittee approved a bill to require voters to submit a copy of their photo ID with their absentee ballot.

HB 1428, introduced by Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Glen Allen, was approved on a 5-2 vote. All of the Republicans on the subcommittee supported the bill; the two Democrats opposed it.

“We require folks to present a photo ID when they cast a ballot, but we don’t when they send in an absentee ballot,” Fowler said. “I think that seems like a kind of hole in the wall.”

His bill now goes to the House Appropriations Committee for consideration.