As Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) continued to mull what to do with a pair of voter ID bills passed by Virginia’s General Assembly, Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-Louisa) appeared on national television to make his case for the legislation.
“We thought this would be a bipartisan, common-sense issue,” said Garrett, who tried two people for voter fraud as a Louisa county prosecutor. “It passed [the Senate with a] 20-20 tie, with the lieutenant governor breaking the tie. The only conclusion I can reach is that there are some entities that are interested in allowing the loopholes to continue and not ensuring the sanctity of one person, one vote. And that’s very disconcerting in the United States of America.”
McDonnell professed to being on the fence about the bills in his own national interview Sunday, and again in comments to reporters after an unrelated bill-signing in Richmond on Monday. The governor, who appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union with Candy Crowley,” said he was not sure if the measures can ensure the integrity of elections without erecting barriers for legitimate voters.
“I’m still working through it,” he said.. “I’m trying to make sure the bill I’ve got back [from the General Assembly] strikes that proper balance.”
McDonnell had proposed some amendments to soften the bills, which were among the most contentious of the session. But the General Assembly rejected one of his changes. That has left McDonnell to choose between signing the bills; letting them become law as-is, without his signature; or vetoing them. The General Assembly would not have another chance to amend the measures or override a veto. The bills require that voters provide some sort of identification at the polls; otherwise, their votes will not be counted.
Democrats have complained bitterly that the measures, and similar voter ID bills around the country, will suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, college students and the poor, contending that they are less likely than others to have identification.
But Republican legislators contend that Virginia’s voter ID requirements are absurdly loose — “just short of the pinkie swear and a note from mom,”as Garrett memorably put it during one floor debate.
For decades, Virginia has had a law requiring voters to provide identification at the polls. But about 10 years ago, Virginia changed the law to allow people who arrive at the polls without ID to vote, as long as they sign a sworn statement that they are who they claim to be.
Under the bills, the voter would still be allowed to vote after signing the affidavit, but only by provisional ballot. The ballot would not be counted unless the voter later provided identification. Faxed or emailed copies of the identification would be accepted.
Even as it imposes stricter standards for presenting identification, the legislation also would expand the types of identification that would be accepted at the polls.
Current law calls for a voter registration card, Social Security card, driver’s license or government-issued identification or photo ID from a private workplace. The new legislation would require jurisdictions to also accept utility bills, paychecks, bank statements, government checks or a current Virginia college ID.
McDonnell proposed an amendment that would have allowed the provisional ballots to be counted if elections officials determined that the signature on the ballot matched the one found in voter registration records. Some elections officials questioned whether they should be put in that position since they do not have expertise in handwriting analysis. The General Assembly rejected that change and sent the bills back to the governor.
“I thought it would be easier to have a signature comparison, rather than voter having to come back [with ID],” McDonnell said.