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McDonnell calls for tweaking of Virginia’s voter-ID bill

Amendments go to ‘veto session’

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed relaxing a high-profile voter-identification measure passed by the General Assembly this year — one of more than 100 bills he wants amended. He also issued seven vetoes.

Mr. McDonnell proposed that a voter who does not show proper identification at the polls simply have their signature compared with their signature already on file, if necessary, rather than require people to return to the polling place or submit identification documents at a later date. He also expanded the forms of identification poll workers can accept to include community college ID cards.

Another of Mr. McDonnell's amendments on the voter-ID bill extends the time voters can send or present ID to the local electoral board from one to three days. If the voter does not do so, their signature would still be compared with the one on file.

Despite the proposals, he did axe a section that would have allowed people without ID to cast a regular vote if they were identified by a poll worker.

The voter-identification bill — one of the most controversial to clear the legislature this session — was pushed by legislators who said the measure was intended to combat voter fraud.

Mr. McDonnell said that by tweaking the legislation, he was hoping to "preserve this goal of preventing illegal voting while promoting voter participation, and making sure we do not stand in the way of legitimate voting."

Voters who fail to produce identification at the polls are currently allowed to vote if they sign a sworn affidavit attesting to their identity. The bill would allow people who cannot produce an ID to cast provisional ballots.

Critics, though, maintain that even though the bill expands the pieces of identification a voter could use to include items such as college ID cards and utility bills, the idea that such voters' ballots would be counted provisionally could discourage turnout.

"I think his amendments make a terrible bill slightly less terrible," said Anna Scholl, executive director of ProgressVA, a liberal advocacy group. "Limiting Virginians' access to the polls ... to combat a problem that just isn't there is unacceptable."

Last week, 10 felons were indicted in Richmond by a grand jury on charges that they falsified voter-registration forms in 2008.

This year's legislation would not have prevented such cases, but proponents of the bill quickly pointed to the case as evidence that voter fraud is a problem, despite arguments to the contrary.

The vetoes and amendments were handed down in advance of the General Assembly's one-day "veto session," scheduled for April 18, during which legislators consider and vote on the governor's changes.

Among Mr. McDonnell's other actions, he proposed some minor changes to a massive overhaul of the state's depleted pension fund. The Republican governor recommended giving local governments the option to phase in a 5 percent raise for local and school employees, to be offset by a 5 percent increase in employee contributions toward the $24 billion underfunded Virginia Retirement System (VRS). Local school boards already had the option to phase in the raises under the bill approved by the legislature.

Mr. McDonnell made some technical amendments to a major piece of his education agenda — a bill to give tax credits to businesses that grant scholarships for poor children to attend private school.

The governor also changed a bipartisan bill from Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, that would now bar state agencies from "knowingly" assisting in the unlawful detention of any citizen. It would also prevent the state from entering into joint task forces for purposes of detention and authorize it to drop out of task forces if officials decide to do so.

"There were some heavy hitters in Washington who wanted him to veto this," said Mr. Marshall, alluding to Department of Defense personnel. "He listened to the people of Virginia, who were concerned about this. This was their concern. I'm pleased with that."

Under some interpretations of the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the U.S. military would be allowed to detain citizens indefinitely on American soil.

President Obama issued a statement when he signed the bill on New Year's Eve saying he disagreed with provisions in the law. He later issued a statement saying he would not authorize the indefinite military detention of U.S. citizens without trial. He nevertheless drew fire for leaving open the possibility for future administrations to make nefarious use of the law.

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