By Claire G. Gastañaga, Executive Director

This week the U.S. Justice Department pre-cleared Virginia’s new voter ID law under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department’s decision means that the law will be in effect during this fall’s elections.
As we said in expressing disappointment in the Governor’s decision to sign the voter ID bill into law last May, the new voter ID law is a solution to a problem – voter impersonation fraud – that by all accounts does not exist in Virginia.
The fact is that the enhanced voter ID law has no real purpose or effect other than to make it harder for everyone in Virginia to vote. We believe that the law will have a significant adverse effect on minorities, the elderly and the working poor, particularly those without cars who are dependent on rides from others or public transit, and we will be monitoring its implementation closely for this reason.  The enactment of this new and unnecessary barrier to voting continues Virginia’s long and sad tradition of seeking to limit the right to vote rather than expand it.
Prior to the enactment of the 2012 amendments to Virginia’s voter ID law, Virginia required all voters to show ID or sign an affirmation under oath and penalty of perjury (a felony) that they are who they said they are.  The old law allowed voters without ID who signed the affirmation to vote on the regular voting machines on Election Day and ensured that their votes would be counted.  The new law says that voters without ID are to be given a provisional ballot which will be counted only if they submit proof of their identity to their registrar before noon on the Friday after election.
One bright spot is that the new Virginia ID law was modified so that, unlike laws recently enacted in other states (like Pennsylvania), it does not require a voter to have a photo ID to vote.  Virginia law allows voters to continue to use their voter registration cards and other forms of picture and non-picture IDs to vote. We hope that the Governor’s decision to spend more than a million dollars mailing new voter ID cards to all registered voters and to implement a voter outreach program explaining the changes in the voter ID law will help alleviate some of the adverse impact of the ill-considered and unnecessary change to Virginia’s voting laws.
As a part of its ongoing efforts to help people vote, the ACLU of Virginia has already distributed 30,000 voter rights cards (in English and Spanish) to organizations and voters across the state.  These cards and a longer form flyer outline the rights of voters and include the new voter ID requirements. They are available on the our website.