Holder gives clearance to Virginia voter ID law

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, August 21, 2012 12:03 EDT
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An "I Voted" sticker. Photo: Flickr user D.H. Parks, creative commons licensed.
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The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday said it approves of proposed changes to Virginia’s election laws, showing that the Obama administration does not uniformly oppose Republican-sponsored voter identification requirements so long as allowances are made for legitimate voters without photo identification.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has been an outspoken critic of voter ID laws that drive down the number of eligible voters by limiting what forms of ID can be used to obtain a ballot, and under his direction the Department of Justice has opposed many states’ attempts to implement laws that strictly require photo IDs. “We call those poll taxes,” he said in a recent speech to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Despite that position, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Virginia officials on Monday explaining that Holder “does not interpose any objection to the specified changes” to the state’s voting laws. Due to a long standing history of discrimination against minorities, states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, like Virginia, must seek pre-clearance from the federal government when looking to change their election laws.

Virginia’s voter ID law, passed earlier this year by the state’s Republican-run legislature, will block the vote of any person who does not show a valid form of identification. However, unlike South Carolina and Texas, where photo IDs are required, Virginia polling places will accept non-photo IDs like utility bills, bank statements, student IDs or a pay stub.

Any voter without an accepted form of identification will also still be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, but they must submit at least one form of ID by mail within three days of the election of the vote won’t be counted.

In addition, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell ordered that all registered voters be sent a voter ID card — a move the Department of Justice said removed “the burden of travel” from voters who would otherwise be lacking the proper identification.

Republican lawmakers have pushed for the laws even though what they call an epidemic of “voter fraud” hasn’t been shown to even exist. Instead, studies have shown that photo ID laws drive down the numbers of poor, young, old and minority voters, who are statistically less likely to carry a government-issued photo ID.

A total of 27 states have voter ID requirements, but just six require photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The number of states that will require photo ID to vote will jump to 11 before the 2012 presidential election if the courts or the Department of Justice clear the laws.

The state of Pennsylvania is the most recent state to usher in photo IDs for voters thanks to a Republican judge’s ruling last week that’s expected to be reviewed by the Pennsylvania supreme court. The state’s House Majority Leader, State Rep. Mike Turzai (R), said at a party meeting earlier this summer that the law “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

Photo: Flickr user D.H. Parks, creative commons licensed..

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.