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January 19, 2000

Voter identification bill cleared by Senate panel

BY TYLER WHITLEY Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

Moving quickly to pass a measure that Democrats blocked in court last year, the Republican-dominated Senate Privileges and Elections Committee yesterday sent a statewide voter identification bill to the Senate floor.

Democrats contend a requirement that prospective voters show some form of identification would hearken back to Virginia's segregationist past and discourage African-Americans from voting.

Republicans insisted that voter identity would ensure the integrity of the ballot box but could give only scattered examples of abuse. Thirty-nine states now require voters to show identification or sign in at the polls. Currently in Virginia, voters voice their name and an election official matches it against the poll book.

The measure passed 11-3, indicating easy passage in the Senate.

Last year, a voter identification requirement passed the assembly only after it was restricted to 10 pilot communities. Democrats, before the 1999 General Assembly elections, blocked the measure in court, in part because of the argument that the pilot communities had a different voting requirement than the state's other 125 localities.

The committee delayed action yesterday on a bill proposed by Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., R-Winchester, that would ban loyalty oaths in future primaries. The state is requiring a pledge from those who participate in the Feb. 29 GOP presidential primary.

"I will not sign any loyalty requirement," said Potts, arguing that the pledge would keep "Reagan Democrats" from participating in the primary.

Actually, the pledge was revised so that those signing it would promise not to participate in another party's nominating contest. They still could vote for another party's candidate in the general election.

The committee killed a measure proposed by Sen. Warren E. Barry, R-Fairfax, that would have made constitutional offices nonpartisan. Barry suffered political heat last fall when his son, running as a Democrat, defeated a Republican incumbent for sheriff of Fairfax County.

Republicans argued that candidates have the choice now to run as independents.

Copyright 2000 Richmond Newspapers Inc

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