The legislative drive against voter fraud is a solution in search of a problem. Proposed General Assembly legislation would scratch the current provision that allows voters to sign a sworn statement that they are who they claim to be if they’re unable to produce a required form of identification. Instead, they would cast a provisional ballot. For lack of an ID, a potentially eligible vote would not be counted on election night, and possibly not at all, if the would-be voter doesn’t provide the information. At the least, this measure would leave registrars sitting on more uncounted ballots after Election Day, potentially causing confusion for voters and candidates.
When asked what extent voter impersonation is a problem in Virginia, state Sen. Stephen H. Martin, a sponsor of one of the ID bills, said there’s no way to tell now. “In Virginia, since you do not have to identify yourself, you never catch these guys,” said Martin, a Chesterfield County Republican. “I can’t show you evidence that it’s happening. Nobody can show you evidence that it’s not happening.”
But in the absence of documentation of a problem, does the former land of Jim Crow want to go anywhere near a law that could deny eligible voters their ballot? Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said there has been very little voter fraud in Virginia, to the best of his knowledge. “The ‘voter fraud’ restrictions could have the effect of reducing the overall vote total, discouraging people from voting, just as the ballot qualification restrictions keep some people from running. Historically, this has been part of the ‘Virginia way’ — and a tradition we should shed, and actually have shed to a great degree.”
Given a national GOP push to enact “voter fraud” laws, it’s easy to conclude these bills are more about partisanship than electoral integrity. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, new impediments to voting and registration will fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters. In other words, likely Democrats.