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Democrats, Republicans battle over voter ID bills

Democrats hope the U.S. Justice Department will intervene if the Republican-controlled General Assembly passes laws imposing more stringent identification requirements on Virginia voters.

Two measures moving through the General Assembly – House Bill 9 and Senate Bill 1 – would prohibit prospective voters from casting official ballots if they can’t show proper identification. Republicans say the bills would help prevent fraud at the polls, but Democrats say the legislation would discourage elderly, minority and low-income people from voting.

Democrats acknowledge that they can’t stop the assembly from passing the bills or Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell from signing them into law. However, under the U.S. Voting Rights Act, the federal government must review such laws because Virginia has a history of racial discrimination in elections.

“It will pass, the governor will sign them, but my hope would be that if nothing else, we could get the Justice Department to put a halt to this,” said Delegate Kenneth Plum, D-Reston.

Proposals to revamp voter identification laws have stirred controversy in Virginia and across the country. Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to prevent certain people – especially groups that tend to favor Democrats – from voting in elections.

“I think it’s a national move on the part of the Republican Party to suppress voter participation, and it concerns me greatly that Virginia would be a part of that,” Plum said. He said he is “opposed to the bills and find them very serious in terms of their consequences.”

The GOP bills would revamp existing law for voting in Virginia. Currently, someone without a voter registration card or other identification can vote on Election Day by signing an affidavit that “he is the named registered voter who he claims to be.”

Under SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield, and HB 9, introduced by Delegate Mark Cole, R-Fredericksburg, Virginians without adequate identification would cast “provisional ballots,” not
official ones.

The provisional ballots would be counted only if election officials can verify the voter’s identity. For instance, voters who cast provisional ballots could submit proper identification to the electoral board by email or fax.

Originally, SB 1 would have eliminated the voter registration card from the list of documents people could show to establish their identify. That provision was dropped as the Senate approved the bill.

Indeed, the revised SB 1 would expand the list of acceptable identification to include student ID cards, utility bills, bank statements, paychecks and government checks.

The Senate approved SB 1 on Feb. 6 after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast a tie-breaking vote in favor of the legislation.

The House Committee on Privileges and Elections plans to consider the bill Friday [Feb. 24]. The committee’s meeting starts at 9:30 a.m. in the Ninth Floor Appropriations Committee Room of the General Assembly Building.

The House approved HB 9 on a 69-30 vote on Feb. 1. On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections revised the wording, making it consistent with SB 1. The Senate panel then voted 8-7, along party lines, to approve HB 9.

Republicans say the bills are aimed at stopping voter fraud.

“I believe these bills will help ensure the integrity of our elections without denying anyone their right to vote or placing undue burdens upon them,” Cole said. GOP officials say they have evidence of voting fraud in Virginia.

“There have been several instances of voter fraud, including an instance in Fairfax County where not only did a non-citizen vote, but he served as an election officer,” said Delegate Timothy Hugo, R-Centreville.

However, Democrats say such allegations are vague and rare. They believe the bills have a different purpose: to give Republicans the upper hand in elections. Plum said has not seen the voting fraud that the Republicans claim to be fighting.

“No one has shown me what has happened in Virginia that gives rise to the need for the bills. What wrong, what ill are we trying to correct?” Plum said. Democrats held a rally against the voter identification bills at the
Capitol on Jan. 31. Speakers likened the bills to efforts to prevent African Americans from voting during Virginia’s Jim Crow days of racial discrimination.

Democratic leaders say passage of the bills would hurt Virginia’s reputation.

“I believe it will be a mark against Virginia because it will show that we are not as progressive a state as we sometimes want to make ourselves out as being,” Plum said.

“It’ll show that we really haven’t freed ourselves from bad practices of the past. And particularly if there is a contested presidential election, we will not stand well in the eyes of the country.”
Community

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

Author, child abuse survivor to speak at Henrico event

To help celebrate twenty years of service to advocating for abused and neglected children in Henrico County, Henrico Court Appointed Special Advocates, Inc. (CASA) will host an evening with bestselling author K.L. Randis on Tuesday, Aug. 26, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Belmont Recreation Center in Lakeside.

Randis is best known for her bestselling novel, Spilled Milk, which tells her painful – but ultimately triumphant – personal story of abuse and of child abuse prevention. The book is her first novel.

The event is free to the public, but seating is limited Reservations may be made by e-mailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Belmon Recreation Center is located at 1600 Hilliard Road. > Read more.

Philippines ambassador to the US visits Filipino Festival in Henrico


The Ambassador of the Philippines to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. attended the Ninth Annual Filipino Festival at Our Lady of Lourdes Church earlier this month. Cuisia (pictured above with festival performers) was welcomed by County Manager John Vithoulkas and Brookland District Supervisor Dick Glover (below) at the church, which is located in Lakeside.

While enjoying some of the cultural performances at the festival, the ambassador and his wife had a private lunch with Vithoulkas, Glover, Eldon Burton (an outreach representative from U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner’s Office) and Father James Begley, the pastor of OLL. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

Cultural Arts Center seeks artists, designs for holiday displays

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen is seeking artists, crafters, and creative groups for three opportunities allowing creative thinkers and doers to design and display imaginative holiday decorations.

The center is seeking designs for:

• Illumination 2014 – A Festival of Trees: Artists can celebrate the holiday season by creating a one-of-a-kind Christmas tree filled with decorations to suit any unique or traditional theme. Past trees exhibited have included Buzz Lightyear; HEROES; Santa tree; Musicology; and many others. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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