RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — A controversial bill that tightens requirements for voters in Virginia passed Monday after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast a tie-breaking vote.
Another bill on which Bolling had given Republicans a one-vote margin, a measure that would have excluded the press and public from viewing the counting of provisional ballots, was later reconsidered and a final vote was put off for another day.
The voter ID bill generated bitter opposition from Democrats, particularly African-American senators who said it was akin to Jim Crow-era efforts to suppress black votes in a battleground state bracing for bruising presidential and senatorial campaigns.
Sen. Henry Marsh, a lawyer involved in the legal fight to desegregate public schools 50 years ago, said the bill would similarly put new obstacles before the poor, elderly, disabled and others.
“This is one more barrier beyond those that have been erected over the years,” Marsh said. “When I first voted, I had to pay $5 for a poll tax. There were blank registration forms used at the time I registered to vote, so they gave you a blank piece of paper and you had to fill out the questions and the answers.”
The measure requires that voters bring to their polling places some government-issued identification such as a driver’s license, voter registration card or Social Security card. Sufficient alternatives to prove residency would include a current utility bill or bank statement.
Those who don’t have identification would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot that is counted after election day only if the voter returns to the local registrar with the needed identification.
Republicans said the bill mirrors federal voter identification requirements.
“That is all this bill does, it discourages fraud. You have to have an ID to buy beer, to buy cigarettes, to get on a bus, a train, to cash a check, to do just about anything, and we’ve been telling people for decades, you have to have an ID to vote. It’s just a requirement that we’ve turned a blind eye to,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.
But Democrats noted that supporters of the bill have provided no evidence of people casting votes fraudulently. Rather, said Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk, the problem has been apathy, people staying home on election day, and the new ID requirements would only worsen the problem.
Del. Mark Cole’s voter identification bill returns to the House for concurrence with amendments that were added to it. The provisional ballot privacy bill heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
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