Last week Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a new Virginia law which will place what he referred to as “an undue burden on the voters.” We’ve discussed the changes which Governor McDonnell attempted to make to the legislation previously. While the Department of Justice must still pre-clear this law, the bill is in its final form and we can now begin to see the true impact that the Governor’s actions will have. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the unknown of this bill.
The good: The finalized bill actually expands the forms of ID that are now accepted at Virginia polls on Election Day. This is good news. Unlike in some other states, Virginia has not passed a strict photo ID law, allowing Virginians to use any of the following as ID: a Virginia voter registration card, social security card, a valid Virginia driver’s license, any ID card issued by a governmental agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia or the United States, a valid student ID card from any institute of higher learning in Virginia (including both public and private schools), a valid employee photo ID card, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter.
Governor McDonnell also signed an executive order requiring the Commonwealth to mail new voter registration cards to all registered voters in Virginia. This at first glance appears to be firmly in the good category, as Virginia will be supplying all registered voters with acceptable ID under the new law. However, his order could have unintended consequences as explained below.
The bad: For those voters who relied on the ability to sign a sworn affidavit if they forgot their ID, that option is now gone. Voters who forget their ID at home must vote a provisional ballot which will not be counted unless they provide ID within 3 days of the election. Some of the voters who will potentially be impacted are voters who work hourly jobs without the ability to leave at will or take time off in those 3 days to provide proof of ID, those with transportation barriers, and those who are disabled and rely upon others to attend their polling place. While there is a fax or email option, those are only truly options for those who have access or can pay for access to the necessary technology. The removal of the sworn affidavit will result in Virginians’ votes not being counted.
Those new registration cards? They aren’t completely free. Early estimates indicate that providing new registration cards will cost Virginia approximately $1.36 million. In a Commonwealth with known transportation problems and a budget fight which brought the General Assembly to its breaking point, spending $1.36 million to implement an unnecessary law is bad policy. Studies have already shown that there is no voter fraud in Virginia elections which stricter ID laws will solve. So consider this $1.36 million of waste courtesy of Bob McDonnell.
The unknown: Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this bill is what remains unknown. While we do know that new registration cards will be mailed to all registered voters, we don’t know what will happen if these registration cards are returned without delivery. College students across the Commonwealth routinely move into different housing for the summer, whether it is within Virginia or to another state for their summer jobs. If these students have their mail forwarded with the intent to return to their address in the fall, there is a chance that their new registration card could bounce back to election officials as undeliverable. Will these students be removed from the rolls? Will Virginia election officials do anything to protect these students?
While it appeared that Governor McDonnell was looking out for the voters of Virginia in suggesting suitable changes to the new voter ID law, what we are now faced with is yet another unnecessary and costly law which makes it more difficult to have your vote counted in Virginia. The public education campaign that Governor McDonnell has mandated has a lot of work to do to ensure that Virginians have the information they need to have their vote count.