Angered by a Republican push for tighter voting regulations, hundreds of people rallied on Richmond’s Capitol Square on Tuesday, denouncing the bills as racist attempts to return to the era of Jim Crow.
“What kind of governor, what kind of lieutenant governor, what kind of senator, what kind of delegate would lynch democracy?”said Benjamin Chavis, former director of the NAACP.
“SB1 and HB9 are the old South,” he said, referring to Senate and House bills that would make it harder for people to vote without government-issued identification. “Some people want to put their Confederate flags up again in Virginia.”
Speakers at the rally, including Democratic state senators and delegates, compared the bills to the poll taxes and literacy tests once used to block blacks from voting. They accused Republicans of trying to disenfranchise racial minorities, poor people, the elderly and students at a time when Virginia is expected to play an important role in President Obama’s reelection hopes.
“The fact that there’s a brother in the White House is just so unsettling to people,” Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones (D) told the crowd of more than 200.
But advocates said the bills target voter fraud, not racial minorities.
“I think it’s needed to ensure the integrity of elections,”Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg) said on the House floor, where his bill was debated hours later.
“This bill does not deny a single person’s right to vote,” said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax).
Under current Virginia law, a voter who shows up at the polls without identification may cast a ballot after signing a sworn statement that he is who he claims to be. The voter could face felony charges if the statement turns out to be false.
The House and Senate bills, sponsored by Cole and Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield), would only allow the voter to cast a provisional ballot after signing the statement. That way, the ballot could be disqualified if the voter’s statement proves to be false.
Martin’s bill also would eliminate one form of identification currently accepted at the polls. Voters could no longer use Virginia voter registration cards to demonstrate that they are qualified voters.
The House voted 66 to 28 Tuesday to advance Cole’s bill to a final vote, which is expected to take place Wednesday. Martin’s bill passed a Senate committee Tuesday.
Eight states passed voter identification bills last year. In December, the Justice Department blocked the one adopted by South Carolina, which required voters to show a state-issued photo ID at the polls.
The Justice Department called the voter ID law discriminatory because minority voters are more likely than whites to lack that sort of identification.