Democratic lawmakers continued to bash their Republican colleagues over voting rights legislation Monday, saying the GOP has gone out of its way to kill measures to deal with long lines at the polls while pushing ahead with stricter voter identification requirements. After many Virginians waited four to five hours to vote in November, House of Delegates Democratic Caucus Chairman Mark Sickles of Fairfax said members of both parties came to Richmond in January “with an urgent mandate to make real change and improve our democracy.” Yet measures put forward by both Republicans and Democrats that would have allowed early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, absentee voting for people over the age of 65, absentee voting for people with children under the age of four, increased voting machines at polling places, and keeping polls open until 8 p.m. have all been defeated. Even legislation supported by Gov. Bob McDonnell such as the automatic restoration of voting rights for felons convicted of nonviolent offenses were killed in the House, Sickles said.
What remains, Democrats say, are bills that would suppress the vote by requiring photo identification at the polls, shorten the list of acceptable ID voters can use at the polls, and make naturalized citizens jump through extra hoops before they are allowed to vote.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, who sponsored two of the measures that drew much of the Democrats ire said he has no intention of suppressing the vote. He said his bills are designed to protect the integrity of the voting process.
“This is a commonsense measure that Democrats and Republicans have elsewhere embraced,” Obenshain said.
Obenshain said the idea for photo IDS came from a bipartisan commission headed by former President Jimmy Carter and President George H.W. Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker. The commission was looking into problems with the 2000 presidential election.
Rhode Island’s Democratically controlled legislature passed a photo ID for voting requirement law in 2011.