Virginia’s strict voter-identification law will go on trial in a federal court in Richmond in February, part of a national strategy by Democrats to remove what they say are barriers to voting by African American, Latino and poor voters. Although Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, is sympathetic to the core issue in the lawsuit brought by two activists and the state Democratic Party, the state must defend its voter-ID law. A statute requiring photo ID was passed in 2013 and signed into law by McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell. To defend against the lawsuit, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) appointed an independent counsel, Mark F. “Thor” Hearne II, who represented the 2004 reelection campaign of then-President George W. Bush.
Hearne will face off at the trial against Democratic lawyer Marc E. Elias, who is general counsel to Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and has also worked for McAuliffe and Herring in the past.
Elias will argue that Virginia’s photo-ID requirement, which he called “arbitrary and unfair,” severely burdens poor and minority voters who are most likely not to have valid ID — and, the lawsuit alleges, to favor Democratic candidates. If the lawsuit succeeds, it could give Democrats an edge in November’s general election in a swing state that both parties have called crucial to winning the White House.