By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service
RICHMOND, Va. –– Virginia is poised to become the first state to repeal a law that says voters have to show a photo ID before casting a ballot.
The House of Delegates on Tuesday passed a bill to drop the photo ID requirement, in place since 2013, and the Senate approved the same move last week. The legislation will create a voting system that is more equitable for people of color and those who live in rural areas, according to Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the acluva.org.
“The data has shown pretty conclusively,” she said, “that the people who are less likely to have the documents that you needed to be able to get the photo ID that was being required were disproportionately people of color, people living in rural areas, people who are of lower economic means.”
Eighteen states have laws that require people to provide valid photo IDs to vote, specifically a state-issued ID, military ID or passport. Opponents of the change have said they feel the photo ID requirement is needed to prevent voter fraud.
Gastañaga said there’s no evidence of widespread fraud at ballot boxes in Virginia or across the nation. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice indicated it’s more likely an American would be struck by lightning than impersonate another voter at the polls. Gastañaga said she thinks the current law was designed by GOP lawmakers to suppress turnout by groups that tend to vote as Democrats. Until this year, she said, Virginia was seen as one of the most difficult states in the nation in which to cast a vote.
“We had to have 20 excuses to be able to vote absentee,” she said, “We had long registration periods, where you had to register 30 days before an election. We had all kinds of different barriers.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam supports ending the photo ID requirement and is expected to sign the bill. Virginia Democratic lawmakers also have filed a bill to make Election Day a state holiday to further increase access to voting.
The texts are online for the bills ending the voter ID requirement — Senate Bill 65 and House Bill 19 — as well as HB 108, the Election Day holiday bill. The Brennan Center voter-fraud report is at brennancenter.org.