By Hope R. Amezquita, ACLU-VA Staff Attorney & Legislative Counsel
Join us on Wednesday, June 18 for our weekly tweet chat---we’ll discuss Virginia’s voter photo ID law and whether the Commonwealth is adequately prepared to ensure your right to vote.
Virginia’s new voter photo ID law takes effect on July 1, but we’re not sure state and local election officials are ready to fully implement the law. Case in point: the Commonwealth has yet to start its public education campaign to inform voters about the new law’s requirements. The budget stalemate at the General Assembly hampered the funds the State Board of Elections needs to develop and distribute information. Regardless of the activities of the General Assembly, the campaign should have started months ago to adequately ensure that Virginians are prepared and aren’t disenfranchised in the next Election.
Voters need to know exactly what they need to vote - and by waiting until late summer and more likely, early fall to tell people about the law may leave a lot of people scrambling. Voters who need a free ID will be required to travel to a General Registrar’s office at a time when election workers are busy preparing for the election. Even worse, some General Registrars’ Offices have the limited part-time open hours of operation!
The Commonwealth neglected to mandate that General Registrars operate longer hours or perform mobile access to get IDs to voters who can’t travel to the Office. Some localities may decide to perform mobile access outreach, but the Commonwealth recently announced at the June 10th State Board of Elections meeting that the voter photo ID’s mobile capability won’t be ready until early August. Even so, it isn’t likely that many General Registrars will be doing mobile outreach because of strained resources and will be busy preparing for the upcoming Election.
There are several voters in Virginia at risk of being disenfranchised because they can’t travel to the General Registrar’s Office to get an ID. Voters with disabilities, elderly voters, voters who live in rural communities without public transportation, and even voters in urban communities with unreasonably long travel times to a General Registrar’s Office may face insurmountable obstacles to voting - simply because they don’t have an acceptable ID and cannot get to a General Registrar’s Office to get a required voter photo ID.
These problems highlight why the Commonwealth must require localities to conduct mobile access to sign up voters in need of voter photo IDs. Other states are taking some actions to ensure the right to vote. For example, in Mississippi the state is offering free rides to voters who need to travel to the clerk’s office for an ID. Mississippi’s Department of Transportation has dispatched 500 vehicles to accommodate voters. If other states can take steps to ensure that every voter can access an ID, why can’t Virginia?
Tweet, call or email us today if you do not have an ID!
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