New Va. voter-ID law makes it ‘tough to cheat’

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With Gov. Bob McDonnell’s blessing, Virginia is the latest in a growing number of states that have adopted voter-identification laws ahead of the 2012 elections — though he managed to add a fairly significant twist.

The governor’s signature on a set of companion bills requiring voters to present one of a number of forms of ID at the polls pleased Republicans, who introduced the measures they say are meant to combat voter fraud.

“Virginia’s new voter-ID law makes it easy to vote, but tough to cheat,” said Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, who co-sponsored the Senate version.

Mr. McDonnell also took the bold step of issuing an executive order directing the State Board of Elections to send new voter-registration cards to every active voter in the state, which could help blunt charges that the legislation is aimed at suppressing the vote of the poor and minorities — groups that traditionally vote Democratic and could help deliver the state to President Obama once again.

That move, however, is a costly one — to the tune of $1.36 million, according to Justin Riemer, deputy secretary for the State Board of Elections.

The expense did not go unnoticed by Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Henrico Democrat, who was one of the leading opponents of the measures.

“In this economy, as we have too few dollars for education, public safety and transportation, we should not be wasting valued monies to suppress voting,” he said. “This is now a costly boondoggle and an affront to Virginians and the Constitution.”

But with controversy over the laws swirling around the country — the U.S. Department of Justice has already blocked legislation in South Carolina and Texas requiring a photo ID at the polls — the added precaution appears to be intended as a signal that Virginia is not actively trying to suppress any particular voting bloc.

All three states are subject to Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because of a history of discrimination at the polls, and must “preclear” any changes in their voting laws with the federal government.

“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.”

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 his or her 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.

Mr. McDonnell 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.

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