Watching Virginia's Voter ID Laws

On March 11, LatinoJustice PRLDEF along with eighteen other civil and voting rights organizations sent a letter to Governor Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia urging him to veto SB 1256 and HB 1337 which will limit eligible voters' access on Election Day. Following passage last year of new voter identification laws, these new bills seek to impose further restrictions on the forms of acceptable identification Virginia voters can show at the polls, which would have a disproportionate effect on racial and ethnic minorities, newly naturalized citizens, the elderly, students and individual with disabilities. The passage of both of these bills by the Governor will affect nearly 870,000 Virginians who currently lack valid government-issued photo IDs.

“It’s imperative that people have clear and ready access to the voting process” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “These voter identification laws and voter purges seek to suppress citizens’ right to participate in the democratic process, the bulk of them Latino voters. We will continue to be diligent in stopping any attempts to prevent citizens from voting.”

Immigrants, particularly Latinos, and Asians constitute large and growing shares of the economy and electorate in Virginia. Immigrants (the foreign-born) account for more than 1 in 9 Virginians, and 45.5% of them are naturalized U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote. “New Americans”—immigrants and the children of immigrants—accounted for 9.3% of Virginia voters in 2008. Jaz- can you footnote this to attached January 2012 "New American in Virginia" report by American Immigration Council which I've also attached if you want to hyperlink.

HB 1337 eliminates social security cards, utility bills, bank statements, government checks, and paychecks as acceptable form of identification for voting. It also mandates that all forms of identification permitted must be current, valid, and either contain a photograph or the name and address of the voter. The process of acquiring acceptable state identity documents is costly, and time consuming, requiring multiple visits to government offices which often are not within close proximity, creating a significant burden upon many Virginians. SB 1256 includes the provision that local registrars issue free photo IDs in an effort to circumvent the notion that requiring photo ID is tantamount to a poll tax, which is prohibited. Yet, as LatinoJustice and its coalition partner organizations argue, it is difficult to understand how such IDs will in fact be free since the process for acquiring the necessary identity documents to obtain a photo ID from the local registrar could be expensive and/or require multiple visits to a local government office. SB1256 may also invite fraud by attracting individuals who wish to use the new photo voter registration cards to build new identities.

The new photo ID requirements are unnecessary and onerous for hundreds of thousands of voters, and also a costly proposal for Virginia taxpayers." The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis estimates that SB 1256 will cost taxpayers between $7.3 million and $21.8 million. LatinoJustice joined the ACLU of Virginia, League of Woman Voters of Virginia, NAACP Virginia State Conference, Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and other local organizations in the letter.

In a separate letter, LatinoJustice and a dozen other organizations also urge the Governor to veto SB 1077, which requires the State Board of Elections to verify voters' citizenship status using the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program (SAVE). SAVE is a compilation of over 100 million records from over a dozen databases that is used to verify a person's immigration status for the purposes of receiving public benefits.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF was part of a coalition of voting rights organizations and that last year sued the state of Florida challenging the legality of the voter purge program the state began in 2012. That case was settled last Fall requiring the state to reverse the effects of its illegal purge program, which resulted in many eligible voters being purged, and widespread confusion among the voting public.

Read the letter submitted by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and ACLU on SB1256 and HB1337 here.

Read the letter submitted by LatinoJustice PRLDEF and ACLU on SB1077 here.

Learn more about Latinos in Virginia here.

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