The Republican governors of Virginia and Mississippi are the latest to sign legislation making sure voters show proper identification before they cast their ballots, a trend that has the Obama re-election campaign ramping up its efforts to make sure voters know of the new requirements.
In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant late last week signed into law a state constitutional amendment requiring voters to show photo ID that Mississippi voters approved by 62 percent in the 2011 general election. The measure also allows people without proper photo identification to apply for a free voter ID at the office of the county circuit clerk. “We want everyone to participate in the election process, and we want that process to be fair and secure,” the governor said in a statement.
Virginia already required voters to have valid ID, but has never required a photo ID and that doesn't change now. Legislation that Governor Robert F. McDonnell signed on Friday does change voting procedures in two ways. Under previous law, those who didn't have identification could sign a special document vowing they were who they said they were.
That is no longer an option under the new legislation. Instead, when someone votes without presenting identification, they can vote with a provisional ballot but must later present an approved ID to their local registrar through email, fax, mail or hand delivery.
Secondly, Virginia expanded the kinds of documents accepted as ID. Now, the following are acceptable forms of ID for voting: Virginia voter registration card; Social Security card; valid Virginia driver's license; any other identification card issued by an agency of the Commonwealth, one of its political subdivisions, or the United States; any valid student identification card issued by a Virginia institution of higher education; a valid identification card issued by an employer containing a photograph of the vote; a copy of a current utility bill or bank statement; a government check; and a paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter.
At the same time, McDonnell issued an executive order directing the State Board of Elections to send every Virginia voter a voter card, a valid form of ID under state law, before Election Day, so that every registered Virginia voter has a valid ID to present at the polls. "Every qualified citizen has the right to cast one vote. Not two votes; not zero votes. It is our duty as a democracy to ensure that is always the case,” McDonnell said in a statement.
Supporters of voter ID laws echo McDonnell and Bryant's sentiment that such measures are needed to combat voter fraud, but opponents say the laws are unnecessary and deliberately try to dissuade the poor and minorities from voting. Some 25 percent of black voters do not have a valid government-issued photo ID, according to a report from the Brennan Center for Justice.
Virginia and Mississippi are among more than a dozen states, most in the South, that have a history of discrimination and are required to seek federal approval before they make changes to their election procedures. A federal appeals court on Friday said Congress acted properly in 2006 when it reauthorized the law. The ruling likely sets the stage for an expected showdown over the civil rights law at the U.S Supreme Court, the Christian Science Monitor reported.
South Carolina and Texas, two other states that require such approval, also have new strict photo ID laws that could take effect before November 2012, if they receive clearance, according to this state-by-state analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Wisconsin's new strict photo ID law was held unconstitutional in March, but it could take effect before November 2012 if that ruling is reversed by a higher court, NCSL said. And earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against Pennsylvania's new photo ID law.