Sunday, 28 September 2014 00:00

200,000 in Va. may lack proper ID needed to vote

Written by Antonio Olivo and Jenna Portnoy | The Washington Post

About 200,000 voters in Virginia may lack the proper identification needed to cast a ballot in the November midterm elections, state election officials said Thursday.

Under a state law that took effect this year, Virginia voters must present a driver’s license or some other form of photo identification at their polling stations before they cast a vote.

Although voters who lack such proof would be allowed to fill out provisional ballots on Nov. 4, election officials hope more people will obtain state ID cards or some other valid form of identification so that their votes could be more easily counted — particularly in the event of close contests.

“It’s so much easier if there’s a live vote,” said Cameron Quinn, the voter registrar in Fairfax County, where 13,690 registered voters lack state driver’s licences.

The Virginia law that was passed last winter is part of a tide of state “voter ID” laws enacted in recent years, generating criticism from groups that argue that the laws unfairly target immigrants and low-income voters who are less likely to have a driver’s license or other form of photo ID. Of the 34 states that have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, Virginia has among the strictest rules.

The federal Help America Vote Act mandates that all states require identification from first-time voters who register to vote by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

Eighteen states and the District stop there when it comes to providing identification for voting. Dozens of states have imposed varying restrictions on identification that voters must present when they cast ballots.

In Virginia, voters must produce a driver’s license or other photo ID issued by the state, a U.S. passport, a photo ID issued by the federal government, a student ID card that has a photograph and was issued by a school in Virginia, or an employee ID card with a photograph. Driver’s licenses are the most common form of identification in the state, and 198,902 voters in Virginia were without those, according to data from the Virginia Department of Elections.

Voters who show up to the polls without acceptable identification may cast provisional ballots, but they must present a valid form of identification to their local registrar — or apply on the spot for an ID — by noon on the Friday after the election for their votes to be counted.

In areas where elections may be close, the potential for confusion caused by a lack of proper ID has generated some concern, particularly among Democrats who say they are more likely to attract voters affected by the new law. Many Republicans said they are not worried.

“It’s definitely an issue,” said Shaun Daniels, campaign manager for Fairfax County Supervisor John W. Foust (D) in Northern Virginia’s hotly contested 10th Congressional District race.

“You can tell the motivations by who is working to solve this and trying to educate people and who is not,” Daniels said.

Republican Barbara J. Comstock, a member of the House of Delegates from McLean who is running against Foust, declined to comment on the state law. The 10th District includes portions of Fairfax County, plus all of Loudoun County — where an additional 2,439 voters lack a driver’s license. Prince William County, also part of the 10th District, has 3,679 voters without licenses, state figures show.

The estimate of affected voters comes from a list generated by the Department of Motor Vehicles of registered voters who are not licensed to drive or do not carry a state ID. The number is 6,817 in Arlington County, 4,575 in Virginia Beach, 4,571 in Richmond and 4,273 in Lynchburg.

Election advocates say it’s difficult to estimate how many voters in a state might not have valid ID because voters might have photo identification through their school or work. But Courtney Mills, a state attorney at Fair Elections Legal Network, said the number is reportedly about 300,000 in Wisconsin, up to 700,000 in Texas and 500,000 in Pennsylvania.

People who are home-bound are not required under the law to have a photo ID and can vote through an absentee ballot.

The makeup of voters without driver’s licenses depends largely on where they live, officials say. In Arlington, home to many young professionals who don’t drive, a significant portion of the 4,000 people listed by the DMV are in their 20s and 30s, said Linda Lindberg, the general registrar in Arlington.

“We don’t know whether they have other forms of ID or not,” she said, adding that there are also seniors in the county who are more likely to be affected by the new law.

In Fairfax County, seniors make up the bulk of people who may not have proper identification, Quinn said.

Her office has been trying to increase awareness of the new law through “road shows,” where staffers with cameras offer to produce voter IDs on the spot. State election officials are also mailing fliers about the law to voters.

“We want to make sure we get the information to voters who need it,” Quinn said. “We want everyone who wants to vote to be able to vote.”

Link to original article from The Washington Post

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