WASHINGTON — Virginia’s Republican-controlled House of Delegates has passed legislation to require proof of United States citizenship before registering to vote in state and local elections.
The bill passed Wednesday on a 64–33 vote along party lines.
“There has [sic] been cases of non-citizens, either inadvertently or intentionally, registering to vote in the commonwealth and this was designed to prevent that,” said the bill’s sponsor Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, as he spoke about the legislation this week. “I think it is appropriate for us to require proof of citizenship.”
The measure would apply only to state and local elections because such a policy is not allowed on the federal level.
Under the legislation, anyone who does not prove their citizenship would only be allowed to vote in federal elections.
“I would have made it a requirement for any election; however there is a federal court ruling that says you cannot require proof of citizenship for federal elections, which really makes no sense to me,” Cole said.
Virginia voters would need more than a photo ID. Citizenship could be proved with a birth certificate, passport or other record accepted under federal law.
The bill directs general registrars to indicate on each registered voter’s record whether they are registered for federal, state and local elections, or in federal elections only.
The law would not apply to any voter who registered prior to 2018.
Republicans said the bill would preserve the integrity of the voting process, while Democrats have argued it could keep eligible voters away from the polls.
State Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, said it was “very unlikely” that someone who was in the country illegally would try to vote because of the penalties they could face.
“Committing a felony to vote in an election is something that no non-citizen in their right mind would do,” he said.
Other Democrats raised concerns about U.S. citizens lacking the required documents.
“There is data out there that 5.7 percent of citizens do not have a copy of their birth certificate or a passport,” said Del. Richard Sullivan, D-Fairfax.
“There will be Virginians disenfranchised by this piece of legislation all because of some concern about voter fraud, for which there is no proof,” Sullivan said.
If the bill also passes through the Senate, it would likely be vetoed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has emphasized voting accessibility.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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