RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — General Assembly Republicans muscled the most far-reaching of their polling place identification and voter vetting bills to final passage Wednesday with almost party-line House votes on Wednesday over the outcries of Democrats who likened the measures to Jim Crow-era poll taxes.
On a 65-34 vote, the House completed legislative action on a strict photo identification bill that would require all voters to present identification such as a drivers license or passport bearing a photo of the holder to cast a regular ballot. Those without it would have to vote a provisional ballot that would count only if the voter could provide local election officials with the required identification by noon on the Friday after the election.
Only one Democrat supported the measure.
If Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell signs it into law, it would take effect in 2014 unless the U.S. Justice Department determines it violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Four other states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee — have strict photo ID requirements in effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Four others — Mississippi, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — have passed such measures but they have not taken effect, either because of adverse court rulings or pending Justice Department approval.
Seven states have less-strict photo ID laws and one, Alabama, has passed a moderate photo ID law which is not yet in effect pending clearance by the Justice Department.
And on a 70-30 vote, the House passed a bill that would cross-check Virginia's rolls of registered voters against a federal database of immigrants to determine whether any are not citizens and ineligible to vote.
Both bills head to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell along with legislation passed Wednesday that would eliminate several forms of identification deemed acceptable to prove a voter's identity under a law passed a year ago, including utility bills, paychecks or government paychecks.
"We've got to ask Gov. Bob McDonnell to veto this bill," said Del. Charnielle Herring of Alexandria, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia.
Where strict photo ID legislation has been struck down by federal courts in other states, it was ruled that a requirement that people who lacked photo identification cares purchase them amounted to an illegal poll tax. A provision was added to Sen. Mark Obenshain's bill in the Senate guarantees the state will provide voter ID cards at no charge.
Republicans said the bills only ensure that people entitled to cast ballots do so. But when pressed by Democratic Del. Joe Morrissey, none could point to a ballot-box voter fraud conviction or even a criminal charge for such an offense.
But Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said there are still costs involved for people who have to locate documents necessary to obtain a free photo ID, particularly for the elderly who don't drive, have never held an office or college photo ID, lack passports and may have no existing birth certificate. Some of those people survived voter suppression efforts during the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and '60s, she said.
"If they have to bring forms of ID that they don't have, then that's going to cost money, and that's a poll tax," McClellan said. "We have gone backward and this really is a solution in search of a problem."
Republicans used their majorities in the House and Senate to bulldoze voter strictures through two months after President Barack Obama became the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to win Virginia two years in a row. When last year's voter identification laws failed to blunt the Democrats' momentum, Herring alleged, they doubled down with even tougher laws.
"I call this a sore loser bill," she said.
Photo ID bill (SB1256): http://bit.ly/XKMdu9
Immigrant voter vetting bill (SB1077): http://bit.ly/Ybtngd