McDonnell signs voter ID law, orders Election Board to issue new registration cards

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Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell on Friday signed into law legislation that will require voters to bring identification to the polls, and issued an executive order requiring the State Board of Elections to provide a new registration card to every voter.

The combination of the law, accompanied with Mr. McDonnell’s executive order, walks a fine line on what has been a thorny issue both in the state and around the country.

“For the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia to have faith in their government, they must have faith in their elections,” Mr. McDonnell wrote in his order. He acknowledged that potential burdens on eligible voters — including the elderly, poor, racial minorities, non-native English speakers and the disabled — must be taken into account. “All eligible voters regardless of income, race, age, and other factors should be able to have equal access to the electoral process and should be made aware of any changes that may impact their ability to vote.”

The governor’s signature will likely please Republicans, who introduced the measures they say are meant to combat voter fraud. The executive order, meanwhile, could help blunt criticism from Democrats who argued that groups like the poor and the elderly are less likely to carry around valid ID, and keep at arm’s length the U.S. Department of Justice, which has already blocked voter ID laws in other states.

Virginia is one of a handful of mostly Southern states that must “pre-clear” changes to its voting laws with the Justice Department because of a history of discrimination at the polls.

The order also directs the State Board of Elections to “take necessary steps to ensure that all eligible Virginia voters are made aware of the provisions of these new laws and are given the necessary information in order to provide an appropriate form of identification when voting.”

Currently, if voters do not have identification with them at the polls, they can simply sign a sworn affidavit saying they are who they say they are.

Under the law as passed, such a vote will be counted provisionally, and the voter will have to provide proper identification to their local electoral board within three days after the election for their vote to count.
The bill was also amended to expand the forms of identification of voter could use to include, for example, a bank statement or utility bill.

“With the enactment of House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 1, Virginia has taken steps towards protecting against voter fraud and increasing the public’s confidence in the election system,” he wrote.

Mr. McDonnell had offered amendments to the measure, including one that would have had electoral board members compare a voter’s signature to the one in their voter registration file to confirm their identity. The General Assembly, however, rejected it.

“While I think the legislation would have been improved with the signature comparison provision that would have virtually eliminated the need for nearly anyone to have to return with an ID later in the week, the legislation returned to me, coupled with the above additional steps to be implemented by executive order, is an important step in securing our elections and preventing any possible fraud,” Mr. McDonnell said. “I was pleased that the General Assembly approved my remaining amendments, particularly my proposal to extend the time a voter has to transmit or present their ID after Election Day until Friday at noon after the election.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has blocked similar laws in South Carolina and Texas on the grounds that they discriminate against minority voters, but those are much more far-reaching and require voters to bring photo identification to the polls.

Still, Virginia Democrats derided the proposals in the commonwealth as “voter suppression” bills, maintaining that they would discourage the poor, elderly and minorities from voting.

Republicans, meanwhile, insisted that the goals of the law were to protect the integrity of the voting process and quash any chances at potential fraud.

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