IN 2012, Republican lawmakers in Virginia changed a decade-old state law that allowed registered voters without identification to cast ballots if they signed a sworn statement attesting to their identity. Mindful that there was no compelling reason for the change — there was zero evidence of in-person voting fraud — they cushioned its impact by allowing voters to present any one of an array of IDs, including bank statements and utility bills. They also authorized a $2.2 million public relations campaign to make sure voters got the word.
Then GOP lawmakers went for broke. In what amounts to an unadvertised blitzkrieg aimed at young and minority voters, they enacted another law, effective this year, requiring voters to present photo IDs at the polls — and not just any photo IDs. Even if they have registered without a hitch, Virginians may now be blocked from casting regular ballots if their photo ID expired more than a year ago, if they moved to the state recently and have only an out-of-state driver’s license, if all they have is a photo ID from a private high school, if they attend college out of state and present a photo ID from that institution, or . . . .
The point is clear. At least 200,000 active voters in Virginia lack driver’s licenses, and many of them may also lack other photo IDs that the state now may consider valid for the purpose of voting. If the Republicans’ goal was to disenfranchise those voters, they have done a fine job.
Putting aside their partisan agenda — to impede voting by certain groups that lean Democrat — the illogic of their project is breathtaking. Bank and utility statements, paychecks and other non-photo forms of ID remain sufficient to register to vote and to receive voter registration cards in Virginia. But those same forms of identification no longer will suffice at polling stations; nor will voter registration cards (which have no photo).
What’s more, lawmakers have appropriated just $200,000 in state funds from the current budget to inform voters of this draconian change, which will be in force this November for U.S. Senate and congressional elections. Localities may supplement that education campaign, as they should; already, some local registrars are expressing concern that some voters will be turned away for lack of valid IDs.
Republican lawmakers note that registrars’ offices will issue voters a free photo ID. But many voters who work full-time would have trouble finding the time or means to get to these offices, which are closed weekends and evenings.
The campaign to tighten voter ID rules has accelerated for several years under GOP auspices, mainly in Southern states. It calls attention to the party’s increasing identification with and reliance on older and whiter portions of the nation’s electorate, which are shrinking. By trying to negate the electoral effects of demographic change, Republicans are digging themselves deeper into a hole of their own making.