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Voter photo ID bill moves toward passage
The bill would provide free photo ID cards to voters.
Friday, February 15, 2013
RICHMOND — A contentious proposal to require Virginia voters to present photo identification at the polls is one step away from passage in the General Assembly.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the measure Friday on a largely party line 15-7 vote, advancing it to the House floor, where Republicans hold a commanding majority.
The bill has already passed the evenly divided state Senate, 21-20, with Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting a crucial tiebreaking vote.
The measure has an effective date of July 1, 2014. If it is passed by the House and signed by Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, voters that fall will encounter the second major tightening of voting requirements in two years.
Last year the General Assembly required voters without an accepted form of identification to cast a provisional ballot, which isn’t counted unless and until they prove their identity.
The measure now nearing passage (Senate Bill 1256), sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, mandates a photo ID, thereby invalidating several forms of identification currently accepted at the polls, including voter ID cards issued by the state board of elections, which contain no photo.
The state spent $2 million last year mailing new cards to all registered voters and educating Virginians about changes that the 2012 General Assembly made to voting requirements.
The bill now making its way through the legislature also mandates that the state provide free photo ID cards to voters who don’t have them. That will require the purchase of cameras, software and hardware for Virginia’s 134 local registrars offices.
A staff fiscal impact statement estimates the cost of equipping registrars offices at $166,250. In addition, the elections board proposes spending $200,000 a year for three years educating voters about the new requirements and as much as $37,000 a year providing the free ID cards.
Supporters of the measure, mostly Republicans, say it is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Opponents, mostly Democrats, say voter fraud by impersonation is a fiction and the real purpose is to depress voting among minority, elderly and low-income Virginians. Some opponents also predict that the cost of implementing the measure will exceed the state’s estimates.
The House committee vote Friday broke along party lines with two exceptions. Del. Johnny Joannou, a Portsmouth Democrat, voted in favor of photo ID and Del. Chris Jones, a Suffolk Republican, opposed it.
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