Virginia lawmakers debate voting rights

Posted at 12:47 PM, Feb 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-20 13:05:11-05

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) -- Virginia lawmakers are gearing up to debate Senate Bill 1256, also known as the Photo ID bill.  The legislation has already been approved by the Senate and is now up for vote by the Virginia House of Delegates.

"Under my bill it's simple all you need is a photo ID.  Period," Senator Mark Obenshain (R - Harrisonburg) said.

Obenshain said the bill would cut down on voter fraud and is a reasonable request to cast a ballot.

"It is a simple requirement," Sen. Obenshain said.  "You've got to have a photo ID to buy spirits, you have to have a photo ID to buy cigarettes, you have to have photo ID to get on a plane, a bus or a train, to pick up public benefits; so to say you have to have a photo ID really is a a modest requirement."

But Democrats argued the proposed bill would hurt older and less-fortunate Virginia voters who may not be able to get a photo identification.

"The amount of people who currently don't have an ID to get one, they would have to pay for it and that's basically a poll tax," Delegate Jennifer McClellan (D - Richmond) said.  "And given our history of putting barriers in place for people voting, I think this is a step in the wrong direction."

Senate Bill 1077,also sponsored by Sen. Obenshain, calls for the State Board of Elections to check the immigration and citizenship status of voters through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program.  Critics argue the bill could deny actual citizens the right to vote due to outdated information within the program.

"The use of SAVE to conduct systematic purges, places nationalized citizens in a separate disadvantaged class," Del. Alphonso Lopez (D - Arlington) said.

Some Virginians said they feel the bill would label them as second-class citizens.

"When SB 1077 targets people like me and says we have to now again prove that we are now worthy of the full rights and responsibilities of a US citizen, I personally find that very offensive," Tram Nguyen, Deputy Director of Virginia New Majority, said.

If either bill, SB 1256 or SB 1077, pass the House, they move on to the governor's desk for his signature. The bills would then go to the U.S. Department of Justice for final approval.

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