Inflaming a contentious debate over voter identification laws, the Virginia State Board of Elections decided this week that, to cast a ballot, voters will have to present a current photo ID or one that expired within the past year. The Republican-controlled board voted 2 to 0 Wednesday — with the Democratic member absent — to narrow the definition of valid identification, a move that one board member said would streamline and simplify the rules. “We believe it’s a compromise and gives people a reasonable grace period,” said Donald Palmer, who was appointed to the board by then-Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R). But Democrats and voting rights advocates said the new rule will confuse voters less than two weeks before a special election in which the rule is expected to apply. “The board’s decision today makes it that much more difficult for voters to participate in our democracy,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of Virginia New Majority. “Our elections should be free, fair and accessible. Needlessly restricting the forms of voting ID only makes it more difficult.”
The board’s decision is another development in a national debate over voter identification. Virginia has had identification requirements in place for years, but Republicans have recently pushed through legislation tightening the definition of what constitutes acceptable identification. They argued that previous rules were too loose and did not combat voter fraud.
Democrats say stricter voter ID laws are part of a Republican strategy to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly, college students and the poor. They contend that many such voters are more likely to support Democrats and less likely to have valid identification under the new rule.