Voting advocates fear impact of Virginia’s voter ID law
"There are so many cases where voters who have every right to vote potentially can be turned away," said Anne Sterling, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia. She said rural, poor and elderly voters could face a harder burden.
It's an issue in states across the U.S., with the Supreme Court last weekend allowing Texas to use its strict voter ID law, over the vehement objection of three justices. The Texas law, unlike Virginia's, doesn't allow college student IDs as a form of identification.
Defenders of Virginia's law say it provides ample opportunities for people who don't have photo IDs to get them in time to vote. And opponents such as the League of Women Voters are working to help people obtain IDs ahead of the election.
Just how many voters lack an acceptable ID is difficult to say. The State Board of Elections last month said that just under 200,000 active voters in the state lack a Department of Motor Vehicles-issued photo ID, the most common form of ID that voters are expected to use at the ballot box. But the elections board stressed that there are several other types of IDs that voters can use, such as U.S. passports.
Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, said the law will have a disproportionate impact on lower-income and African-American voters. The law "is likely to mean tens of thousands of people are no longer going to possess the documentation to be able to vote."
"Those people who will find it most difficult to participate are more likely to vote Democratic," he said. But he didn't expect any of Virginia's races to be close enough for the new law to make a difference in the outcome.
Virginia State Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, a Harrisonburg Republican who sponsored the state's voter ID law, said he didn't expect a drop-off in any group of voters, except perhaps fraudulent votes.
Obenshain cited a 2005 bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, which called for states to require voters to present photo IDs and offer free photo IDs to those who don't have driver's licenses.
"The most compelling argument for a voter ID law in Virginia is it buttresses voter confidence," he said.
Reagan George, president of the conservative Virginia Voters Alliance, dismissed concerns that some people might not be able to obtain a photo ID.
"As long as you're a registered voter in Virginia, you can go to any facility, and they will make a picture and give you a photo ID to vote," he said.
A coalition including the League of Women Voters, the Fair Elections Legal Network and other organizations is distributing fliers and other materials educating Virginians about what they need to vote, and how to obtain a photo ID.
"We are working flat out, by ourselves and with coalition partners, to inform people as fast as we can," said Sterling, of the League of Women Voters.