The Virginia GOP Just Made Voting More Difficult for Poor People

Virginia doesn’t make it easy to vote, and this afternoon, the state lawmakers have tightened requirements, passing a voter-identification bill that would eliminate several forms of ID currently accepted at the polls:

Senate Bill 719, sponsored by Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, would not go into effect until 2014 and stipulates a voter education component – the result of a Democratic amendment the chamber adopted Monday, also thanks to Bolling’s tie-breaking vote.

The Senate legislation, and a companion measure – House Bill 1337, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, which cleared the House of Delegates today on a 63–36 vote – would eliminate the use of a utility bill, pay stub, bank statement, government check and Social Security card as acceptable identification that can be presented at the polls. Voters would still be able to use a voter identification card, concealed handgun permit, driver’s license and student ID card.

Put simply, voting has just become more difficult for those Virginians who don’t have driver’s licenses, don’t own concealed weapons, and aren’t students.

If your priority is voter integrity—i.e., preventing voter fraud—it’s hard to understand the reason for this change. Social Security cards, pay stubs, utility bills, bank statements, and government checks are hard to fake, and are accepted standards for identification for other government functions—the Virginia DMV, for example, lists Social Security cards as acceptable proof of legal U.S. residency.

But if this is just a way to make voting difficult for core Democratic constituencies, then this change makes a lot of sense. In the absence of automatic, state-issued voter IDs, a broader standard for identification is immensely helpful to lower-income people who have access to electric bills, but might not have a driver’s license, or own a gun. By limiting what people can use to identify themselves, Virginia Republicans are throwing another hurdle in front of the voters who supported President Obama, and gave him his victory in the state.

Indeed, when you partner this with last month’s proposed bill to allocate electoral votes by congressional district—and tilt the playing field in favor of Republican presidential candidates—it’s clear the Virginia GOP is looking for any way to blunt the rising influence of Democratic voters in the state. And because Republicans have an enduring lock on the statehouse, odds are good that they’ll succeed.