- Published on Wednesday, 23 January 2013 18:15
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During the past two legislative sessions the General Assembly, with the Governor’s support, enacted legislation requiring voters to present picture ID’s before voting. After more than four centuries of citizen voting in Virginia, from the first House of Burgesses elections in the early 1600s to Election 2012 just a few months ago, it seems we voters can no longer be trusted.
The reason, as far as the supporters of this legislation are concerned is the presence of massive voter fraud. This is a mythology, mostly invented by the GOP, that claims that Democrats have carried out large scale voter fraud in Virginia elections.
To hear some of them talk, voting in the Old Dominion is no more honest than New York City in the days of Tammany Hall. It’s one of those unusual circumstances, not that common in the information age, where one party’s perception of reality is completely at odds with the other.
But that was last year’s news. As unneeded as it was, Virginia voters accepted it and with picture IDs and voter cards in hand they turned out for election 2012 in record numbers.
However, one of the few redeeming aspects of this unnecessary legislation was a feature of the law that allowed people without picture ID’s to provide other proofs of their identity and domicile. Power and phone company bills could be offered in place of a picture ID. In more than a few cases, particularly for elderly people who no longer have driver’s licenses, or people who never had them in the first place, this simple proof of residency allowed them to vote.
However, in an almost cruel twist, thanks to legislation being introduced by Delegate Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania), this modest allowance for those few people without picture IDs would be eliminated. Now, on top of an already unnecessary piece of legislation what compassionate accommodation there was in the rules is being removed. This begs the question. Just what goes on here?
Perhaps a good place to start is the supposed need for the legislation. Just how much voter fraud goes on in Virginia? From my own experience, having been involved in politics in Virginia for over forty years, I can honestly say that I have never witnessed or even heard of an instance of voter fraud. And by this I mean anyone who tries to vote using someone else’s identity or professes to be eligible to vote when they’re not.
However, that’s just one person’s experience, and besides, being a self professed Democrat, there are those who think I might be biased. With that in mind, there was a recent survey of all of the nation’s reported incidences of voter fraud since 2000. It was collected by a Knight-Ridder News Organization called the News21 foundation. Their conclusion, scouring data from all over the country, was that voter fraud just isn’t a problem. And in Virginia there were no more than a handful of voter fraud complaints to report for the entire decade. Even anecdotal evidence doesn’t pan out.
So, why all this concern for picture IDs, and on top of that, further legislation making it hard for those who can’t get these IDs to vote? The answer is an unsavory thing called “voter suppression” and in Virginia, a state which after much effort has managed to shed its old south image, the whole notion of using this new approach to return to the bad good old days is intensely disturbing.
It’s tough to make generalizations, but in a state which decades ago went to great lengths to keep black voters, and lower income voters from voting, this legislation carries some terrible baggage. It’s almost as if the General Assembly, in history conscious Virginia, has never opened up a history book. Up until the 1960s there was a poll tax in Virginia whose only purpose was to keep African American voters, and lower income voters, from casting their ballot. It did its despicable job very well. But it didn’t stop there. Even in progressive Fairfax County, there were registrars who refused to register black voters, even if they had paid the poll tax. Of course, that was nearly 50 years ago.
That may seem like a long time ago, but even today there are African American voters, Hispanic voters, and low income voters, who are intimidated by someone in government asking for a picture ID. Maybe they don’t have one. Or, maybe they’re just afraid of being challenged. For the most part their reaction is psychological, but it often works, and many eligible voters who might otherwise vote, find it easier not to. All because the legislature, in what I will charitably dub a misguided effort, decided to introduce this unnecessary barrier to voting.
The requirement for a picture ID is on the books and it’s unlikely that it will be repealed anytime soon.
However, when it comes to repealing the only common sense feature of the law, one that allows something other than a picture ID to be used as a proof of residence, then it’s time to draw the line. Delegate Cole’s bill is misguided and unnecessary. It could even be called cruel. It also reflects a complete lack of understanding of Virginia’s history and the progress we’ve made. Last year’s voter ID legislation has already turned back the clock enough. Let’s don’t push it back any further.