Faced with Voter ID legislation that would disenfranchise thousands of Virginians, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell is in a quandary. He can veto the bill and incur the wrath of fellow Republicans, or sign it and reinforce the GOP’s image of hostility toward young, poor and black voters. Mr. McDonnell is all too aware that the bill, passed by Republican lawmakers despite his warning about legislative overreach, is gratuitous at best. That’s why he sent it back to the General Assembly with amendments that would eliminate its most obnoxious feature: a requirement that ballots cast by voters who lack identification be thrown out unless the voters make a separate trek to local electoral offices to prove their identity. But the General Assembly restored that provision and sent the bill back to Mr. McDonnell, who now faces a decision: Does he want to be known as a partisan street brawler, or as a grown-up who governs with restraint?
An example of the former is freshman Republican state Sen. Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (Louisa). Although he is a prosecutor, Mr. Garrett had no compunction about twisting the facts to make the case that voter fraud poses a dire threat to the commonwealth. In support of that specious claim, he appeared on Fox News the other day citing “literally hundreds of cases” from the 2008 elections “investigated and confirmed” by police. Sounds scary, right?
Unfortunately for Mr. Garrett, the facts, as related by the Virginia State Police, are these: Of more than 5 million registered voters in the state, 400-odd cases of possible registration irregularities were referred to police. Of those, 351 were dismissed as unfounded or thrown out by prosecutors; 26 remain under investigation; and just 38 cases resulted in charges, mostly of providing false information. In other words, less than 1/1000th of 1 percent of the state’s voters were proven to have lied on their registration forms.