Virginia is heading toward tough new restrictions on voting following last November’s election, while across the Potomac, Maryland is doing just the opposite. It’s the latest evidence that the two states are following the diverging national trends of the parties that control their respective statehouses. The Virginia Senate approved a Republican-backed measure Friday that requires voters to show a photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot starting in 2014. If it’s signed into law, it would make Virginia the 10th state to pass such a mandate. Republicans said it’s a necessary step to prevent election fraud. But Democrats said the GOP is moving the goal posts after changing voting laws last year to require that Virginians bring any ID, with or without a photo, to the polls. “A year later, we still have no evidence of voter fraud. None at all,” said Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico. Gov. Bob McDonnell has not indicated whether he would sign the bill, but a spokesman said “the governor believes Virginia’s current system generally has proven successful.”
One sticking point for McDonnell could be the cost. To get around constitutional concerns, the bill requires the state to issue a photo ID to anyone who asks, and according to a legislative fiscal analysis, that would cost $840,000 in the first five years.
An independent study by the Commonwealth Institute estimated costs between $7 million and $21 million, based on experiences in states such as Indiana where similar laws have been passed.
“Courts have said that states must require those IDs for free and you need to also provide for free access to the underlying documents needed to get those IDs, like birth certificates,” said Michael Cassidy, president of the institute.
Meanwhile in Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley wants to relax restrictions on voting.
O’Malley has introduced legislation to allow Marylanders to register and vote on the same day during an early-voting period. And it would expand that period from six days before an election to eight.
Maryland would join 12 other states and the District in allowing same-day registration and early voting.