Just days before the Obama administration blocked a Texas voter ID law, Virginia’s General Assembly approved a pair of voter ID bills of its own. GOP legislatures nationwide have been adopting stricter identification standards since the 2000 presidential election, saying they are needed to combat voter fraud. Virginia jumped on the bandwagon just as the Justice Department has decided to crack down on the trend. The department contends that the Texas law, and a South Carolina measure it blocked in December, would disproportionately harm minority voters. But some observers say Virginia’s legislation is less likely to draw Justice objections than the Texas and South Carolina legislation, which required voters to present government-issued photo identification at the polls.
Although Virginia’s measure requires some form of ID, it would expand the types of acceptable voter identification to include such things as utility bills and bank statements. “I do believe the Virginia law is much more narrowly tailored,” said state Sen. Tom Garrett (R), a Louisa County prosecutor who successfully tried two people for voter fraud in 2009. “You won’t find the words ‘photo ID’ in our law.”
State Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield), who sponsored the voter ID bill, said the Justice Department actions are unlikely to come Virginia’s way. “There’s a huge difference . . . because we do not require a photo ID,” he said. Even some critics of Virginia’s legislation — which is among the most hotly contested of this year’s session — aren’t counting on the Justice Department to stop it.