Legislation forcing voters to bring identification to Virginia polling places on Election Day won Senate passage Monday after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling broke a 20-20 partisan deadlock.
Monday's vote in the 40-member Senate marked what opponents felt was the last chance to stop the legislation that they likened to Jim Crow-era poll taxes, claiming it would suppress votes of minorities, the elderly or disabled and students.
The next stop for the bill is the House of Delegates, where Republican conservatives control two-thirds of the seats and have already passed similar legislation on largely party line votes.
The legislation means voters who fail to bring identification will receive a provisional ballot that will be vetted after the election and counted if the voter supplies corroborating identification.
Democrats challenged the bill's Republican backers to provide evidence of substantial voter fraud, saying its real intent was to suppress traditionally Democratic constituencies.
Sen. A. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico, noted the failure of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to qualify in December for next month's Virginia GOP presidential primary ballot because of thousands of voter signatures that were disqualified. McEachin and asked rhetorically why individual voters were being singled out yet no legislation is pending to address situations such as Gingrich's.
“No one is clamoring for these restrictions. No one is crying out over voter fraud, what very, very little there is of it,” said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton and chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus. “This bill and others like it are so 1866.”
Freshman Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, countered that he had successfully prosecuted four people for election fraud while he was the commonwealth's attorney for the county. He also belittled current election law, which allows people who arrive at the polls without ID to sign an affidavit affirming that they are who they claim to be and vote a regular ballot.
“They can use anything short of a pinkie swear or a note from mom,” Garrett said.
Among the identification that poll workers could accept under Martin's bill would be a Virginia voter registration card or driver's license, a Social Security card, other state, federal or locally issued ID, including those of Virginia colleges and universities, employee photo ID issued by the voter's employer or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check or paycheck displaying the voter's name and address.
Initially, the vote to pass the bill was 21-19, reflecting a mistake by Democratic Sen. Charles J. Colgan, of Prince William, in voting for the. The bill was brought back for reconsideration to allow Colgan to correct his error, and that resulted in the partisan stalemate.
That forced Bolling to cast his fourth tie-breaking vote since the General Assembly convened Jan. 11, the day his deciding vote gave the GOP the right to organize as a Senate majority, even though it holds the same 20 seats as the Democrats.