Senator McDougle's photo ID voting bill, SB 794, fails

Watchful Eye

Senator Ryan McDougle’s attempt to bring a photo ID requirement back to Virginia elections failed to make it out of the Privileges and Elections Committee yesterday.

SB 794 would have required a photo ID to vote using a normal ballot. It would have also repealed the portion of the current law that allows people without a photo ID to vote after signing a statement attesting to their identity.

Instead, a person who didn’t have a photo ID would have been given and provisional ballot and would need to prove their identity before that vote was counted.

It’s pretty straightforward, McDougle told committee members when he presented his bill. “There is almost nothing you have to do in relationship to government where you don’t have to have identification. If you’re writing checks, if you’re getting public benefits, you have to have some sort of identification,” he said.

“Voting is one of the most important things that we do as a society,” he added.

Virginia elections commissioner Susan Beals spoke in support of the voter ID requirement, noting that it’s the best way for election workers to check in the correct voters.

“Now that we have 45 days of early voting, “a locality’s entire registered voter list is open for 45 days, and it becomes much easier to check in the wrong voter through human error,” she told the committee members.

Senator Scott Surovell asked whether the current law requires voters to present an ID at polling places.

“So, when a voter goes to vote, they are asked for an ID. But if they do not have an ID, they are allowed to vote without an ID when they sign a confirmation statement,” Beals explained. She would later clarify that this vote is on a regular ballot, not a provisional ballot, and it is counted like any other vote without further action.

Surovell asked if it was true that lying on the confirmation state carried the penalty of perjury.

“It is [true], but it’s sort of hard to follow up if the person’s forging a name. You don’t know who that person is,” Beals responded.

Is the department aware of a single person that’s been prosecuted in Virginia for faking their identity in order to vote since you’ve been commissioner or in the last 5 years, Surovell pressed?

“I have not been aware of that since I’ve been commissioner,” said Beals.

Surovell said in addition to having a group of cloistered nuns in his district, he also has people in their 90s who aren’t renewing their licenses because they no longer drive. There are thousands of people whose licenses are getting taken in Virginia courts. Not to mention the people who just lose their ID.
Senator Ryan McDougle presenting SB 794.Photo byWatchful Eye

He asked if the government is concerned about these people not being able to vote.

He was informed that that bill offered an accommodation for those folks by offering them a free photo ID that can be made at a registrar’s office.

Senator Jill Holtzman Vogel told the committee to consider how simple and easy it is to show an ID. She said so much about our elections have become so politically charged, but “the goal is to have an orderly election and make it run smoothly and help our election administrators have a process that is simple and clear and easy to understand.”

Vogel said it’s really quite simple. “No one complains or has a big uprising” about it being horribly unfair to show an ID for any other process that’s meant to be simple orderly.

“If the majority of voters do have an ID and it’s really simple for them to walk in and show that ID, let’s focus on what we can do address the population that doesn’t have an ID… there’s a way to manage that process,” she said, adding “We’re making the system so much more complicated than it needs to be.”

The difference between other things that require an ID and voting is that voting is fundamental right to American democracy, noted Senator Jennifer McClellan.

“From day one, here on our shores in Virginia, voter suppression occurred.” The very first vote on who would lead the council at Jamestown involved voter suppression to keep John Smith from becoming chair. “Ever since laws were passed to keep people from voting who the majority in power feared would put them out of power,” she said.

McClellan later explained that a lot of laws are passed in Virginia with the argument it’s not a big deal. It was death by a thousand cuts that put barrier after barrier after barrier in people’s way that prevented people from voting. The vast majority of people could pay poll taxes, and McClellan said her father was one of the people who paid them.

“That makes me and other people who had a family member who had to jump through hoop after hoop after hoop, very sensitive to measures that are going to put barriers in the way of casting a fundamental right.” She said that’s why her other delegates fought against it, fought to repeal it, and were voting against it Tuesday “because it is a big deal.”

McDougle attempted to push back. “Individuals have strong feelings, but we ought to be equally as concerned about individuals voting as who they say they are.”

He pointed to the two registrar employees who each told the committee of an instance where a person came in to vote but someone had already voted in their name.

“We should be concerned about that. We should be angry about that. We should be taking steps to make sure that does not happen,” said McDougle.

Surovell said Virginia has over 5 million voters, and the couple anecdotes provided don’t seem to be a reason to change the law. He made a motion to “PBI,” or pass by the bill indefinitely. There was a 9-5 vote in favor of that motion.

SB 968 was rolled in SB 794 at the start of the presentation due to the similarity of the bills. SB 900 was an accidental duplicate of SB 794. So, that was done away with too.

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