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Virginia's Voter ID Bill A Solution In Search Of A Problem

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Members of the Stafford County Election Board, located in one of America's richest counties, brought to Cole's attention what he considered to be a loophole -- that any number of voters could show up to the polls, sign an affidavit attesting to their identify and cast a ballot.

"If 15 people come up and all of them sign affidavits and all of them vote, no way to retrieve the fraudulent votes," Cole said.

Cole acknowledged that he'd never heard of anything such scheme taking place in Virginia, but said it was a situation that poll workers wouldn't know how to handle.

"I think when you find a loophole, you've got to close it, you don't wait until you've got all the animals out of the barn," Cole told TPM.

Notably, Cole's legislation is actually a lot broader than other state laws -- amongst the forms of ID accepted are voter registration cards, social security cards and even employee photo identification cards in addition to government-issued photo ID.

"We wanted to make it as easy as possible because there might be cases where senior citizens and such might not have IDs," Cole said. "Once you start mandating you've got to have an ID or you can't vote, you get into charges that this is a poll tax."

At least one member of the Stafford County Election Board doesn't see the need for voters who lack ID to cast provisional ballots. Doug Filler, a Democrat, told TPM that he's looked into the topic and found no instances of more than one person signing an affidavit pretending to be someone else in order to cast a vote.

"I'm obviously fully in favor or protecting our precious right to vote, but having looked into this issue, I could not find a single case in which any voter was anyone other than who they said they were," Filler said. "In many ways this is a straw man."

If the bill becomes law, Filler said, it's "important that we not throw the baby out with the bathwater and we insure that we are not making it more difficult for voters to cast ballots honestly and under their legal identity."

The board's request to Cole actually pre-dates both Filler and a Republican member of the board, Steven Albertson, who said he was "ambivalent" on the legislation. He also didn't know of any cases in which a person signed an affidavit claiming they were another individual.

"I don't know how many instances we've ever noticed with that," Albertson said, but added there may have been a few times when someone's name was accidentally checked off on the voting roll.

He said there were advantages to deferring to the electoral board instead of leaving the decision on what to do in the hypothetical scenario up to elections officials and said in his experience very few voters at the polls don't have some form of identification.

"It's going to tend to be more accurate and better administrated when you've got provisional ballots, that a decision in which officers of election are not really trained," Albertson said.