Virginia Passes Strict New Voter ID Bill

Democrats say it will disenfranchise poor, elderly and African-American voters.

Posted: 02/21/2013 09:54 AM EST
Virginia Passes Strict New Voter ID Bill

Virginia’s legislature approved a strict new photo identification requirement for voters in the state, coming in the aftermath of a contentious national debate about voting rights.

If the measure is signed by the state’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia would be one of several states that have approved strict voter identification requirements.

Efforts to enact strict voter requirements were the topic of debate in the 2012 presidential election where a number of states with Republican-led legislatures, like Virginia, have looked to alter voting laws.

“I think it is going to disenfranchise many eligible voters, and I’m particularly concerned about the poor and the elderly,” said Jennifer L. McClellan, a Democratic member of the Virginia House of Delegates, in an interview with BET.com.

McClellan, who represents Richmond in the legislature, said that the law would require many Virginians to incur costs for having to get identification. “To me, it’s the same as a poll tax,” she said. “Even if it disenfranchises one voter and Virginia has a history of disenfranchising people of color one voter is one too many."

Voter identification laws have been soundly denounced by progressive advocacy groups, who contend that they are designed to suppress Democratic votes. More specifically, they have been criticized for their potential to make it more challenging for less affluent African-American and Latino voters to cast their ballots.

Before the new rules can become effective, the state is required to get approval from the Department of Justice under the federal Voting Rights Act, a result of Virginia’s history of disenfranchising African-American residents.

However, supporters of the new requirements in Virginia contend that they prevent voter fraud and that complying with the new law will not represent a challenge for anyone who truly wants to vote.

Jackson Miller, a Republican delegate, said that the legislation would prevent voter fraud and that anyone who receives benefits from Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security is required to have government-issued identification.

He said that people who attended the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last year were required to bring government-issued photo identification. That, he said, was “the biggest irony.”

However, McClellan, when addressing the legislature, recalled how her great-grandfather was forced to pass a literacy test and then find three white men to “vouch for him” as a condition for registering to vote.

“That is why any bill that places any barrier to someone exercising their fundamental right to vote is anathema to many citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia, who fought and were terrorized and in some cases died to exercise that right,” she said.

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(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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