GOP's voter ID antics are all about politics, not democracy
This article appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on July 3, 2012.
Do voters need photo identification in Virginia? How late can you register for the presidential election in November? Has your polling place changed?
The short answers:
Monday, Oct. 15.
Maybe, if redistricting altered your precinct.
Those were among the issues at a voting rights and education town hall meeting at Norfolk State University. More than 60 people attended last week.
"In Virginia, what we're mainly seeing is confusion," said Courtney Mills, staff attorney with the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, which is based in D.C. "That's why we're having events like this."
The uncertainty stems from the General Assembly's passage of legislation this year forcing voters to present ID. The law solves a nonexistent problem, because few cases have been uncovered of voters misrepresenting themselves at the polls.
Virginia voters who don't bring ID can still cast a provisional ballot, but it won't be counted unless they turn over the necessary identification by noon the Friday after the election.
In many states - including Virginia - Republican legislators have supported new ID requirements. Groups that tend to vote for Democrats more likely would be affected by these laws.
Fortunately, additional types of identification satisfy the new standard in the commonwealth - a valid college student ID card, a driver's license or a current copy of a utility bill with the voter's name and address.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell also ordered state election officials to send every registered Virginia voter a new registration card. That, too, is acceptable.
"Talk to your friends and family.... Tell them what the law is," noted Donald Palmer, secretary of the State Board of Elections.
It's dispiriting, however, that making it easier to vote has failed to gain traction in Virginia.
Thirty-two states and Washington, D.C., allow early voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-seven states and D.C. offer "no-excuse" absentee voting. Virginia isn't in either category.
Plus, sinister campaigns have cropped up in recent years to suppress turnout.
Jenny Flanagan is director of voting and elections at Common Cause, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. "Usually targeted at minorities and in minority neighborhoods, deceptive practices are the intentional dissemination of false or misleading information about the voting process with the intent to prevent an eligible voter from casting a ballot," she testified last week before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Flanagan mentioned several examples, citing news accounts.
Two years ago, 112,000 households in Baltimore and Prince George's County, Md., the state's two largest black-majority jurisdictions, received robocalls on Election Day in the gubernatorial contest. The calls suggested there was no further need to vote and to watch results on TV that night. Earlier this year, the campaign manager for former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican, was sentenced on several counts, including trying to influence votes through fraud.
On Election Day 2008, 35,000 students, faculty members and staff at George Mason University got an early-morning email from the provost falsely stating the vote had been postponed until Wednesday. The provost later sent an email saying his account had been hacked and the election was still taking place.
"This is upsetting and embarrassing and has caused a lot of confusion and concern among people," a GMU spokesman said at the time.
It was more than that. It was an attempt to hijack the vote in Virginia, which backed a Democrat for president for the first time since 1964.
This shouldn't be about politics; this should be about democracy.
So on Nov. 6, show up, and be prepared.