The Justice Department has signed off on Virginia’s new voter ID law, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said Monday night, in a decision that clears the way for the bitterly contested measure to take effect in time for Election Day.
Justice officials found that the law, which closes a provision that had allowed Virginians to vote without identification but also expands the types of ID accepted at the polls, does not violate the Voting Rights Act, McDonnell said in a statement.
“The legislation I signed into law is a practical and reasonable step to make our elections more secure while also ensuring access to the ballot box for all qualified voters,” McDonnell said. “It is welcome news that DOJ has recognized the compliance of this legislation with the Voting Rights Act.”
The Justice Department review was needed because Virginia has a history of voter discrimination. It is is one of 16 states that must receive federal approval before changing voting laws. The states must prove to the federal government that any new statutes would not discriminate against minorities.
Republicans have pushed voter ID legislation across the country in recent years, arguing that it is needed to ensure the integrity of elections. Democrats say the effort was meant to disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, students and other groups that lean Democratic.
Virginia’s law is more moderate than many of those pushed elsewhere. It does not require that voters present a government-issued photo ID. But it does close a provision that had allowed voters to cast ballots without showing identification of any sort.
For years, Virginia had a law requiring that voters provide identification at the polls. But the law also allowed people who arrived without ID to vote as long as they signed a sworn statement that they were who they claimed to be.
Under the law passed this year, the voter will still be allowed to vote after signing such an affidavit, but only by provisional ballot. The ballot will not be counted unless the voter later provides identification, in person or via fax or email.
Even as it imposes stricter standards for presenting identification, the legislation also expands the types of identification that would be accepted at the polls.
Until the law was changed this year, voters had to present a voter registration card, Social Security card, driver’s license, government-issued identification or photo ID from a private workplace. The new law expands that list to also include utility bills, paychecks, bank statements, government checks or a current Virginia college ID.
When signing the legislation, McDonnell also issued an executive order requiring that every active voter in the state be sent a new voter card.