RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate on Monday signed off on legislation that would require voters who can't produce identification at the polls or are not recognized by an election officer to cast their ballot provisionally, a hot-button measure opponents claim is unnecessary and will suppress the vote.
The Senate deadlocked 20-20 on the bill, with Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling providing the tie-breaking vote. Currently, voters can simply sign a sworn affidavit saying they are who they say they are if they don't bring identification to the polls.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, said the bill is "intended to discourage one thing and one thing only: voter fraud."
The amended version approved Monday expands forms of identification voters can use to include student identification cards or copies of utility bills or bank statements, for example. Registrars or local electoral boards would not have to follow up beyond matching identification documents against the voter rolls to determine whether the ballot would count.
The issue has been a particularly sensitive one both around the country and in Virginia, one of a handful of states that must pre-clear changes to its voting laws or procedures with the U.S. Department of Justice because of its history of racial discrimination at the polls.
"I'm old enough to remember Virginia's inglorious voting history," said Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, Virginia Beach Democrat. "This is called chilling the vote. There are reasons that people give that may make it for some Virginians. It does not make it with me."
"Although I won't change any person's mind, I will say to you that this is another day of shame for Virginia," she added.
Opponents argue that without widespread reports of voter fraud in the state, the bill is unnecessary at best and intentionally punitive at worst. But proponents say claims about the bill's true intentions and effects are grossly exaggerated.
Sen. Stephen H. Martin, Chesterfield Republican and the sponsor of the original Senate version of the bill, said that if arguments put forth by Democrats that the bill would require people to come back to the polling place a second time or prevent elderly people without birth certificates from voting were true, it wouldn't have been introduced.
"Don't fall for the rhetoric," he said before the vote.
The bill now returns to the House of Delegates, which passed it earlier, for a review of amendments.
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