By Hope R. Amezquita, ACLU of Virginia Staff Attorney & Legislative Counsel & Frank Knaack, ACLU of Virginia Director of Public Policy and Communications
Voting RightsAs we wrote last week, starting July 1, 2014 you’ll need a photo ID to vote.  And, as with many things, the devil is in the details.  In this case, we’re talking about the process to ensure that any Virginia voter who will need a free ID will be able to get one.  The regulation that will determine the process for obtaining this free ID is currently in its public comment period.  We just weighed in, and we hope that you’ll do the same!    You can submit you public comment here (the comment period closes on Monday, 5/12).
How will this regulation impact Virginians’ access to the ballot?  Well, for Virginians who will need a free photo ID, it will determine how easily or difficult it will be to obtain the ID.  Here’s what we’re asking Virginia State Board of Elections to do.

1.       Require general registrars to conduct outreach and solicit voters.

As currently drafted, the regulation does not require general registrars to conduct outreach and solicit voters in need of approved photo IDs to vote.  Registered voters will be required to travel to a general registrar during business hours to complete and sign a voter identification card application.    If registrars are not required to conduct community outreach and sign up citizens who need voter photo IDs in locations outside of a registrar’s office, many voters will be disenfranchised by this law.

Two groups of Virginians will be particularly impacted by this lack of outreach – voters without private transportation and voters with disabilities.  Voters without private transportation who live in communities without public transportation--such as those in geographically large, rural jurisdictions--may not be able to travel to a registrar’s office to obtain a photo ID card.    Even in jurisdictions that provide public transportation, some voters may not be able travel to a registrar’s office without difficulty.  For example, from certain locations in Fairfax County, it may take a voter several hours one-way on public transportation to reach the registrar’s office.

These travel difficulties will also be burdensome for voters with disabilities, who are less likely to drive and may be more reliant on public transportation.  Additionally, some voters may have disabilities that make them unable to wait in lines at the registrar’s office to apply for a voter photo ID.  This is especially pertinent given the narrow timeframe for the implementation of the law.

 2.       Require all general registrars to operate full-time and include non-traditional business hours and days.  

The regulation does not consider that many citizens’ lives do not adhere to traditional business hours or days.  Many voters cannot apply for a voter photo ID during current registrar hours because of their employment or childcare schedules.  Virginia law does not protect a voter who misses work to vote, nor will it protect a voter who needs to apply for a voter photo ID card.  Because not all registrars operate on full-time status, the burden to obtain a voter photo ID is even greater in part-time jurisdictions.

The Commonwealth should require that all registrars operate full-time, in accordance with the election uniformity requirement of the Virginia Constitution, and expand the open hours to allow voters to apply for voter photo IDs during non-traditional business hours and days.

In addition, we asked the Virginia State Board of Elections to ensure that section (B) of the proposed regulation specifies that a registrar must contact a voter who’s registration record is “materially inaccurate or incomplete” to alert the voter photo ID applicant that additional information is necessary to issue the voter’s ID.  Without such notice, voters may lose the opportunity to obtain an ID prior to the election.
The importance of this regulation cannot be overstated.  It will impact how people can exercise their fundamental right to vote.  Please, make your voice heard – submit a public comment!  Together, we’ll ensure that all Virginians who are eligible to vote are able to vote!