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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

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Do the Bunny Hop over to Meadow Farm on Saturday for an introduction to all the farm animals there! An introduction to “Global Sounds” – featuring Japanese, Indonesian, West African, Indian, and Brazilian music and dance performances – can be found at the University of Richmond. The University of Richmond will also host the annual Spider spring game, as well as the inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

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

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

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The University of Richmond’s annual Spider spring game will be played at Robins Stadium at 1 p.m. Admission is free. The inaugural Spiders Easter Egg Hunt, open to children 13… Full text

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