- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2012

RICHMOND — Activists on Thursday delivered more than 6,000 petition signatures urging Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto recently passed voter-identification legislation, as the hot-button issue that has become a recent target of the U.S. Department of Justice and the courts lands on the Virginia governor’s desk.

Opponents have targeted two bills on the subject: one that would require Virginians who cannot produce identification on Election Day and are not recognized by a poll worker to cast their ballot provisionally, and another that would bar the public and press from witnessing the provisional ballot count.

Jay Johnson, 72, of Newport News, said her grandmother taught her grandfather the preamble to literacy tests that voters once had to take so he could pay his poll tax and vote.

“I see any voter-ID bill as another poll tax,” said Ms. Johnson, a member of the group Virginia Organizing. “It’s more likely that someone will steal Tide from the grocery store than they will try to vote in someone else’s name.”

The governor’s office said Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, will review the bills in the weeks ahead.

Currently, voters who cannot produce identification can cast an official ballot if they sign a sworn affidavit attesting they are who they say they are.

The bill was amended during the legislative process to expand the forms of ID voters could present to include student-identification cards, copies of utility bills, bank statements, government checks, or paychecks that show the name or address of the voter.

The state’s Department of Planning and Budget said the cost to implement the measure would be minimal. But the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a left-leaning Richmond think tank, estimated it could cost the state between $522,000 and $1.26 million, which would include voter education and outreach campaigns to avoid voting-rights and constitutional challenges. The report included analyses of similar laws in Maryland, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada, Georgia and South Carolina.

Proponents of the Virginia bills say they are intended only to prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of the voting process. They argue that if identification is required to drive a car or buy beer, it should be required to cast a vote.

Opponents say such laws disproportionately impact minority voters — a case the NAACP this week argued before the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Three state voter-ID laws recently have been blocked either by the Justice Department or a court.

The Justice Department has blocked laws similar to Virginia’s proposals — albeit more stringent — in South Carolina and Texas. A state judge in Wisconsin ruled that state’s voter-ID law unconstitutional earlier this week after another judge temporarily blocked it, saying it would deny some people the right to vote.

South Carolina is appealing the ruling, and Texas asked a federal panel weighing the constitutionality of the laws this week to allow the state to challenge Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act as unconstitutional.

That part of the act, which also applies to Virginia, requires a handful of mostly Southern states to pre-clear any changes to their voting laws, including redistricting maps, with the Justice Department because of a history of discrimination at the polls.

It’s difficult to say, though, how Justice will interpret Virginia’s new laws, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

“The department did put the burden on [South Carolina] to show there wouldn’t be an adverse effect on voting, and Justice was not satisfied,” he said. “Virginia may be able to overcome that.”

The Justice Department signed off on Virginia’s new congressional map Wednesday, though opponents had argued it diluted the minority vote by “packing” more black voters into Democratic Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott’s 3rd District, which meanders from Richmond to Newport News, picking off pockets of black voters along the way. The black voting-age population in Virginia’s lone majority-minority district is now 56.3 percent, compared to 53.1 percent under the old map.

Mr. Tobias, though, said approval of the map probably is not an indication of how the Justice Department would review and ultimately rule on the state’s voter-identification measures, should they be signed into law.

“They may be related; they may not,” he said. “I would think they would take each one independently.”

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