27 Nov 2012
November 27, 2012

Virginia Voter ID – Reality Check

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 Not too long ago, Virginia did not require any type of voter identification.  Then it required voter ID, but voters lacking an ID could sign an affirmation.  This year, Virginia’s new and strict voter ID law went into effect.  Voters were required to have one of various types of identification and voters lacking such ID had to cast a provisional ballot and provide proof of identity after the election to have that vote count.  See, e.g., here.  According to an RTD editorial, the system worked well because unofficial results howed that only 543 voters required provisional ballots because they lacked ID.  This number doesn’t measure the real impact, however, because it doesn’t count those who lack ID who didn’t go to the polling place, voters without ID who were not offered or refused provisional ballots, and – I suspect most commonly – voters who lacked ID or were erroneously told they had the wrong ID, left, and were unable to return to the polls in time to vote (or unwilling to stand in up to six hour lines, twice).  The voter ID requirement is not necessary, and if we have to have it, it could be improved, by, e.g., allowing non-Virginia college student IDs.  But in general, we can live with it and voter reform efforts should concentrate on other areas including allowing (no-excuse) early voting and providing adequate poll book and voting equipment and training.

But Republicans, having passed new voter ID requirements, and having seen President Obama carry the state again, are not happy.  Our delusional Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, with absolutely no evidence, agreed with a suggestion that voter fraud had something to do with the election results.  (The reporter’s characterization of Virginia’s voter ID laws as “soft” and “lax” is equally erroneous.)   More importantly, Chief-General-Assembly-Vote-Suppressor Del. Mark Cole wants to revise the law to allow only photo ID, again with no evidence that any such restrictions are necessary.

Election law expert Richard Hasen observes in his recent book, The Voting Wars, that claims made by the “fraudulent fraud squad” of systemic voter identification fraud are baseless.  “The lack of evidence of massive voter fraud conspiracy is just common sense.  Most people are law-abiding citizens.  Even those who are tempted to commit voter fraud to affect an election outcome will likely be deterred by potential felony charges.”  Id. at 59.  He also notes that even if you wanted to do so, a voter ID fraud effort would be complicated and difficult to carry out successfully.

Virginia has a century-long, and disgraceful, history of preventing people from voting – the General Assembly should focus its reform efforts on making it easier for people to vote, not continuing to erect barriers, based on unfounded allegations of fraud.

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