Obenshain, Senate panel OK more stringent voter ID

By Michael Schuster
Capital News Service

RICHMOND — Rappahannock County’s state senator was among the members of the Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee that has approved a bill that supporters say would thwart voter fraud but opponents say would make it harder to vote.

The committee voted 8-6 along party lines Tuesday for a bill that would limit the number of acceptable forms of voter identification – the types of documents someone must present in order to cast a ballot. Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain, whose district includes all of Rappahannock County, was among the eight endorsing the bill.

Currently, voters can identify themselves by presenting a voter registration card, a driver’s license or various other documents. House Bill 1337, proposed by Delegate Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, would remove utility bills, bank statements and paychecks from the list of documents that would be accepted at polling places.

By a 63-36 vote on Feb. 5, the House of Delegates passed a substitute version of HB 1337. That version added a provision that the acceptable forms of ID must be “current and valid” and “contain a photograph or the name and address of the voter.”

After approval by the House, the bill then moved to the Senate. On Tuesday, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee endorsed the bill. All eight Republicans on the panel voted for the bill; all six Democrats voted against it.

HB 1337 now will be considered by the full Senate.

Cole said he believes the only way to prevent voter fraud is to narrow the forms of ID Virginians can present at the polls.

“In previous years, the numbers of acceptable forms of identification have been far too broad. I thought it was necessary to tighten up the list to more acceptable forms of ID,” Cole said. “By requiring a photo ID, we can help to curb deceptive practices.”

However, his bill has drawn opposition from advocates for elderly and low-income Virginians, who tend to vote Democratic and are less likely to have a driver’s license or other photo ID. Critics see the bill as a bullying tactic to prevent certain people from voting.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, told the Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star that HB 1337 would hurt older and less fortunate Virginians.

“There are people – mostly elderly, many of them but not all poor – who do not have any of these IDs that will be left, because they don’t drive anymore or because they don’t have a valid driver’s license,” McClellan said. “All they have is the voter registration card sent by the state.”

Under HB 1337, Virginia residents still could present voter registration cards and Social Security cards as acceptable forms of ID on Election Day.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted on Feb. 12 on “HB 1337 Polling place procedures; voter identification to be current, valid, and contain photograph.”

YEAS – Obenshain, Martin, Smith, Vogel, McWaters, Carrico, Reeves, Garrett – 8.

NAYS – Howell, Deeds, Edwards, Petersen, Northam, Alexander – 6.

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