RICHMOND — About a quarter of the way through the state’s General Assembly session, Republicans thus far have flexed their strengthened muscles to advance legislation on redistricting, abortion and gun rights — with many Democrats left simply to stand and protest.
The bill would provisionally count the ballot of voters who cannot produce identification at the polls. Right now voters can simply sign a sworn statement attesting they are who they say they are.
“I don’t know why we have this bill in front of us if we don’t have documented cases of voter fraud or problems at the polling place,” said Delegate Kenneth C. Alexander, Norfolk Democrat. “This bill looks like it attempts to suppress a certain group of people or groups of people from voting. Usually it’s the elderly, the young, or students, the working poor and racial minorities.”
Similar bills have passed the House before, but this year the voter ID measure has emerged as a symbol of the frustrations of Democrats, who plan an opposition rally Tuesday in Capitol Square.
Republicans on the committee are calling the bill a simple, common-sense measure to keep intact integrity at the polls.
“I’m trying to understand what the controversy of the bill is,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax Republican. “If three people come and say they’re Dave Albo, all this bill says is we’re going to take two Dave Albos, we’re going to set ‘em aside and look at ‘em, and find out whether or not they’re legit. And if they are legit, they get counted, and if they’re not legit, they don’t get counted.”
Virginia Republicans have a super majority in the House and control of every key committee in the Senate, which often has made it seem as if they have extra votes lying around.
For example, a contentious GOP-sponsored congressional redistricting map was quickly passed and signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, after the legislature spent the better part of last year in a stalemate on the issue. And a bill that would require women to undergo ultrasound imaging before having an abortion has cleared the same Senate Education and Health Committee that killed it last year, when Democrats held a lopsided 10-5 majority.
Senate Caucus Chairman Ryan T. McDougle, Hanover Republican, said he has been pleased with the results thus far, attributing it in part to an organizational shakeup Republicans implemented at the start of session.
“Unlike in previous years, where bills weren’t heard if the majority party or the chairman didn’t want them to be or sent to special subcommittees never to be seen again, we’re seeing bills, even ones the chair or majority party don’t like,” he said. “I think there has been a real change in culture in how we’re doing things. If you look at the committees … they’re representative of the body. They’re not slanted 10-5 to one party.”
Still, Democrats used their 20 votes in the Senate last week to win a standoff that had threatened to prevent the body from conducting any other business. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, has ruled that his all-important tie-breaking vote does not extend to such issues as the state budget or electing judges.
“I think it’s the acknowledgment of some Republicans that 20 does not equal 21, and that the Senate is meant to be a collaborative body, and we were able to come together on that issue,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin of Henrico. “That holds true for the conduct of the entire Senate.”View Entire Story
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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