The Justice Department approved changes to Virginia’s voter ID law Monday, suggesting there is a way forward for such laws — even in states that must have election laws pre-cleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — so long as they’re written in a way the federal government will sign off on.
Unlike voter ID laws passed in South Carolina and Texas (both of which have been opposed by the Justice Department under President Obama), Virginia’s voter ID law allows voters do show a wide range of types of identification to cast a ballot. The law, labeled a “strict non-photo identification law” by the National Conference of State Legislatures, OKs types of identification more likely to be held by voters who lack a state-issued photo ID.“Unlike other voter ID laws that the department has challenged in recent months, the Virginia law does not require a photo identification,” Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre said in a statement.
“Instead, this law actually expands the types of identifications voters may use at the polls, and the state is required to mail to all registered voters a voter card prior to the general election, which voters can use to vote, removing the burden of travel on many residents to obtain the necessary documentation,” she said.
Under current law, voters can show a Virginia voter registration card, Social Security card, Virginia driver’s license, a state or federally issued ID or an employee identification card containing a photograph. Any of those forms of ID will still be accepted, but the new law also allows voters to show a Virginia university-issued ID card, a utility bill, bank statement, government check, a paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter or a concealed handgun permit.
The law adds several different types of documents to the list of accepted forms of ID, but it also ends a voter’s ability to sign an affidavit attesting to his or her identity and cast a normal ballot. Though there haven’t been any reported incidents of voters lying on their affidavits, the new law would only allow a voter without an ID to cast a provisional ballot. He or she would need to provide a form of ID before noon on the third day after the election for the vote to be counted.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) signed the law and also ordered that every active voter in the state be sent a new voter ID card. McDonnell had also offered an amendment that would have allowed election board members to compare voters’ signatures to confirm their identity, but that amendment was rejected by the legislature.
Some Virginia Democrats opposed the version of the law that McDonnell signed. State Sen. A. Donald McEachin called McDonnell’s executive order issuing all voters new voter ID cards an effort “to make it look prettier, it’s like trying to put lipstick on a pig.”
DOJ’s letter to Virginia is embedded below.