Pr. William groups to educate voters about Virginia voter ID law

July 16, 2012

As November looms, African American alumni associations are warning that new statewide voting laws might cause problems Election Day.

Supporters say Virginia’s new requirements, signed into law by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) in May, will prevent voter fraud. Critics say they could suppress votes among minorities.

That’s why Dora Muhammad helped launch the Prince William County African Americans Citizens Coalition, made up of four fraternities and one sorority. The group is hosting voter information sessions; the first was scheduled for Saturday.

“It’s not as harsh as some of the other states where there’s been legal push back,” Muhammad said of Virginia’s law. “There’s some slight changes. It’s making sure people have the right information.”

The biggest change is that Virginia has historically allowed voters to cast ballots without identification if they signed a sworn statement. Under the new law, such voters will cast a provisional ballot, which will not be counted unless the voter later provides identification.

The law imposes stricter standards for identification and expands the types of ID accepted, beyond voter registration cards, Social Security cards, driver’s licenses and government- and workplace-issued cards. Also accepted under the law are utility bills, paychecks, bank statements, government checks and Virginia college IDs.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that Virginia has enacted laws similar to Texas or Florida, which have been challenged in court, said Dara Lindenbaum of the District-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Many in Virginia think they’ll need a photo ID to vote. They will not, she said.

“My goal is really to educate the community and let them know they do not need government photo ID . . . so they are comfortable voting on Election Day,” Lindenbaum said.

Muhammad said redistricting might also cause confusion for Prince William voters whose precincts changed.

Members of the coalition are the Alpha Phi Alpha, Kappa Alpha Psi, Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Delta Sigma Theta alumni associations.

Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

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