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January 14, 2000

Del. Devolites to introduce voter ID bill

Proposed voter ID measure introduced again in Assembly

By DANIEL SELIGSON Journal staff writer

RICHMOND, Va. - A controversial program requiring voters to identify themselves at polling places before they can cast ballots - a measure that found its way into campaigns, courthouses and political corridors - is returning to the General Assembly in a bill to be sponsored by a Fairfax County delegate.

Del. Jeannemarie A. Devolites, R-Vienna, is expected to submit the bill today or Monday. If approved by a majority of the 140 delegates and senators and signed by Gov. Jim Gilmore, it would change Virginia's laws requiring voters to show the identification cards issued by state or local governments.

A similar measure initiating a pilot program in 10 state jurisdictions, including Fairfax and Arlington counties, was passed along party lines last year.

The pilot program, however, was marred with controversy as the Nov. 2 election approached. Only a few days before balloting, Democrats asked a panel of Circuit Court judges to prevent the program from being enforced.

The Democrats argued the program violated the Constitution by having different voting requirements in the same races in that, in overlapping state House and Senate districts, voters at one polling place would have to show identification while others voting in the same race and adjoining jurisdictions would not.

The judges agreed.

Devolites said yesterday her new bill would satisfy the courts - and the vast majority of Republicans who support a voter ID measure - by making the requirement statewide, skipping a temporary test program. She has some high-powered support.

``We must ensure the integrity of our voting by requiring all Virginians to show some form of identification at the polls,'' Gilmore said in his State of the Commonwealth address Wednesday night.

Devolites said she has the support of virtually all of her GOP House of Delegates colleagues with the exception of ``a few I haven't located yet.''

But the issue inevitably will become as politically charged as it was a few months ago.

While Republicans insist identification at the polls will cut down on vote fraud, Democrats charge the measure has echoes of Virginia's dark days of Jim Crow laws and poll taxes.

The controversy came to a head in one of the nastiest election battles in the state, fought in Fairfax's 34th state Senate district. Former state Sen. Jane H. Woods in October placed a strip along the bottom of a direct-mail piece reminding voters to bring identification to the polls - after the court injunction against the program.

Her challenger - and eventual winner - state Sen. Leslie Byrne demanded Woods retract the mailing, saying the Republican ``deliberately tried to mislead voters and suppress voter turnout.''

In a move more of campaign posturing than concern about the misinformation, Byrne wrote a $2,200 check, an amount she said would pay for a new mailing with correct information about voter identification. Byrne, however, marked the check in such a way as to make it invalid.

Byrne and other Democrats say they plan to fight Devolites' voter identification measure.

``We just got through an election with historically low voter turnout,'' said Del. Kristen J. Amundson, D-Mount Vernon. ``I would think the General Assembly would be looking for ways to increase participation rather than suppress it. The issue is how do we encourage people to be part of the process.''

Byrne said she believes vote fraud and people misrepresenting themselves at the polls is not a major concern. Devolites and her Republican colleagues, the Democrat said, have invented a non-issue.

``It seems to me to be a solution in search of a problem,'' Byrne said. ``If there were a problem with people voting who are ineligible to vote, this would be a way to deal with it. Out of all the things pressing Northern Virginia, this is not one of them.'

Copyright 2000 Arlington Journal


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