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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

Commonwealth Parenting, CMoR-Short Pump to present 6-part parenting forum series

As part of its 30th anniversary year and partnership with the Children's Museum of Richmond, Commonwealth Parenting will present a six-part RVA Parents Forum Series to address some of the toughest issues confronting parents.

Parenting experts and family educators will tackle topics ranging from bullying to alcohol, sex to divorce, and technology and stress. Parents will learn how to identify potential problems.

"We're excited about bringing this much-needed forum series to parents in central Virginia. Through our valuable partnership with Commonwealth Parenting, we can have a deeper impact in the community through parent and caregiver education," said Karen Coltrane, president and CEO of the Children's Museum of Richmond. > Read more.

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

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Entertainment

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Check out these three B’s in Henrico this weekend: books, bluegrass and “Born Yesterday.” Other activities to participate in – and feel good about – are the 15th annual James River Regional Cleanup and the 5th annual Richmond Out of the Darkness Community Walk. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

When the cliche stands tall

Inspirational football movie tries too hard for its own good
When the Game Stands Tall is based on a true story – an unbelievable true story that takes the word “inspiring” about as far as it can go.

It’s a film about Bob Ladouceur, coach of the De La Salle High Spartans, a California high school football team with 12 consecutive undefeated seasons (a staggering 151 games won in a row).

Along the way, Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) faced the kind of hardship most football coaches (thankfully) can only imagine – suffering a near-fatal heart attack, the death of a star player, and rebuilding the team after that 151-game streak came to a humiliating end. > Read more.

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Enjoy political comedy at its finest with The Capitol Steps at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Methodist and Baptist churches unite for the fourth annual Mission Footprint 5K, taking place at Trinity UMC. Or in honor of Grandparent’s Day on Sunday, treat them to A Grand Family Affair or maybe a movie – the 1978 film “Superman” is at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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