Photo ID bill heading to McDonnell
Feb 21, 2013 (Richmond Times-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
By a 65-34 vote, the Virginia House of Delegates on Wednesday passed a measure that would mandate voters show photo ID at the polls.
Senate Bill 1256, sponsored by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would also require the state to provide free photo ID to voters who do not have such identification.
The bill now moves to the desk of Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has not commented on the legislation during the session. If McDonnell signs it, the U.S. Department of Justice would also have to sign off on the proposal before it would become law in 2014.
Virginia would then become one of just a handful of states that have strict photo ID laws, joining Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have passed similar legislation that is pending.
"Today's victory is a long time coming," said Obenshain, who first introduced photo ID legislation in 2005. "SB 1256 will ensure that every legal vote counts and that those votes are not diluted by fraudulent votes. More importantly, this will buttress voter confidence in the integrity of our election process," he said.
Before reaching the House, Obenshain's bill had passed the Senate 21-20, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote.
Democratic leaders are urging McDonnell to veto the measure.
"We are the world's leading democracy and should be setting the standard for free and fair elections," said Del. Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
"Today, House Republicans delivered a major setback to Virginia's democracy and made it harder for Virginians to vote, including seniors," Herring said. "Governor McDonnell should veto this extreme anti-voting bill and work to make sure that the commonwealth's elections remain open and accessible to all qualified voters."
Most Democrats and numerous, mostly liberal-leaning civic groups have opposed the bill, expressing concern that it would make it harder for the elderly, poor and minorities to vote.
Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, expressed doubts about whether voter fraud is a reality. "Zero people were convicted or charged with it since 2008. The evidence of voter-booth fraud is nonexistent. It's utter nonsense," Morrissey said.
Del. Jackson H. Miller, R-Manassas, said that Republicans do not intend to deny anyone the right to vote. "We are trying to protect the integrity of the system," Miller said.
The House advanced another Obenshain measure, one that could grant Virginia access to a federal database to verify citizenship status of registered voters. Senate Bill 1077, which passed 70-30, would authorize the State Board of Elections to apply to participate in the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program, which is operated the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"People from around the world yearn to come to the United States for greater opportunity, freedom, and, once they become a citizen, to have a voice in choosing their leaders in government," said Del. Alfonso H. Lopez, D-Arlington. "That is the promise of America. Today, House Republicans chipped away at that promise," Lopez said.
The program would allow the board to utilize the SAVE database to verify that voters listed in the Virginia voter registration system are U.S. citizens -- a purpose for which SAVE was not designed.
Critics of the bill have expressed concern that it would target naturalized citizens and flag them to be removed from the voting rolls because the SAVE records are often not updated to reflect the naturalization status of an immigrant.
"This bill will unnecessarily impose barriers to voting for naturalized citizens and will saddle the commonwealth with an inaccurate and costly verification system," Lopez said.
Del. David I. Ramadan, R-Loudoun, said that strengthening Virginia's databases would not delay or take away anyone's right to vote. "As a naturalized citizen, I have faith that they have my name in their system, and I have proof they do, because I was able to vote," he said.
Republicans defeated a motion by Democrats to delay the bill by one year and ask the homeland security department for assurance that the information in the database is accurate and up to date.
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