by Grady Brown
There are a few weeks until the midterm elections, and some Virginians have raised concerns about the state’s voter ID law, passed back in 2013. The contentious bill barely passed the Senate, requiring then Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to cast the deciding vote.
Lt. Gov. Bolling explained his deciding vote in a press release saying, “I think [the bill] is a reasonable effort to tighten voter identification requirements and assure greater integrity in the voting process.” However, Democrats remained unconvinced. Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) stated, “we still have no evidence of voter fraud. None at all.” Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) claimed that the bill was “simply a voter suppression bill.”
Coming into effect this year, the law requires voters to show a valid form of photo identification at their place of polling. Voters may vote provisionally if they lack proper identification, but provisional voters must either mail a copy of their identification or present one in person within three days to County election officials.
Virginia is one of 34 states that has passed a voter ID law. Like many others, the Virginia bill sharply divided Republicans and Democrats. Republicans were primarily concerned with voter fraud in Virginia. The Virginia Voters Alliance recently reported a case of 43,893 duplicate registered voters in both Maryland and Virginia and 164 voters that appeared to vote in both states.
However, other groups contest the presence of voter fraud. A recent study, conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, challenged claims of voter fraud across the country. The study sites a number reasons that voter fraud statistics can be misleading, including clerical errors and poor matching tools. For example, in New Hampshire, 22 pairs of voters who shared the same first and last name were highlighted for possible-double voting. However, further examination found that all of these voters had different middle names and had been falsely flagged for voter fraud.
Democrats were concerned not only with the cost to implement the bill, but also its impact on Virginians’ ability to vote. A recent report from the Board of Election found that 200,000 registered voters lacked a driver’s license. According to data from the state, a significant number of Virginia voters do not have the state’s most widely used form of identification. These voters may obtain a valid ID from the government, free of charge. However, in a state that has five million voters, Democrats are concerned about the marginal impact of reduced turnout due to the voter ID changes.
Mark Warner holds a significant lead in Virginia’s US Senate election, but the Cook Political Report has at least one race, an open seat contest in VA-10’s far northern reaches of the state, as competitive. While similar pieces of legislation have run into legal roadblocks – Wisconsin and Texas had their voter ID laws struck down by federal courts – no such action has happened in Virginia. Furthermore, there is widespread popular support for the voter ID law among Virginians. A poll conducted by Quinnipiac University last February found that 75 percent of Virginians believe that voters should legally be required to show a photo ID when they cast their vote. Only 23 percent of respondents were opposed to the measure, with a 2.3 percent margin of error. The voter ID law had statistically significant support among Democrats, at a 57 to 41 percent margin, and blacks, with a 66 to 34 percent margin.
With less than a month until the midterm elections, Virginia’s voter ID law is not under threat of repeal. Time will tell if the tightened restrictions will impact Virginians’ ability to vote in elections and whether the law will have a noticeable effect on the elections in general.