McDonnell signs controversial voter ID bills

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell signed highly contentious voter identification legislation Friday and, in a move meant to quell concerns that it would disenfranchise some people, ordered elections officials to send new cards to everyone registered in the state.

McDonnell (R) signed a pair of House and Senate bills that will require voters to show identification before their ballots are counted but that also expand the forms of ID acceptable at the polls.

His executive order also directs the State Board of Elections to launch a public education campaign to raise awareness about the need to show identification.

“Open and secure elections are the cornerstone of a free democracy and are essential for citizens to have faith in their government,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Every qualified citizen has the right to cast one vote. Not two votes; not zero votes. It is our duty as a democracy to ensure that is always the case.”

Earlier this month, McDonnell said he was on the fence about the legislation, which was among the most hard fought of the General Assembly session. He said he wanted to find a way to ensure the integrity of elections without erecting barriers for legitimate voters.

“We’re just going that extra mile so people don’t feel like they’ve been disenfranchised in some way,” said Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield), who had supported the legislation and applauded McDonnell’s executive order.

But Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), who opposed the measure, found little comfort in the executive order. “No matter what the governor does to try to make it look prettier, it’s like trying to put lipstick on a pig,” he said.

Voter identification has become a hotly debated issue across the country in recent years, even as researchers question whether voter impersonation is a widespread problem. Democrats say the measures will make it harder for minorities, the elderly, college students and the poor to vote. Republicans contend that legislation is needed to shore up lax election standards.

Unlike many of the bills Republicans have pushed in other states, Virginia’s law does not require a state-issued photo ID.

For decades, Virginia has required voters to provide identification at the polls. But about 10 years ago, the state changed the law to allow people to vote at the polls without ID as long as they signed a sworn statement that they are who they claim to be.

Under the new law, such voters will still be allowed to vote but only by provisional ballot, which will not be counted unless the voter later provides identification.

Even as it imposes stricter standards for presenting identification, the legislation also expands the types of identification 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.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.
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