Controversial photo ID law seems to pass inaugural election test in Virginia

GOT ID? Out of more than 2 million ballots cast, the Virginia Department of Elections says under 800 provisional ballots were cast because people lacked photo ID.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As most eyes turned to the U.S. Senate races in Virginia and across the nation, the commonwealth’s new controversial photo ID law seemed to pass its first election without too many hitches.

“I knew all along that this was a workable program, that it passed constitutional muster, that it wasn’t going to create a burden or prevent anybody from voting except perhaps fraudulent voters. That’s what it’s supposed to do,” Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain, who introduced the law, told Watchdog.org at the election night event for U.S. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie.

Virginia’s new law requiring photo ID at the polls became law in 2013. Rose Mansfield, assistant with the Office of the Commissioner at the Virginia Department of Elections said Monday the days after the election are the “test” of how familiarized and prepared voters really were.

Critics of the new law forewarned voter access issues, saying the new law could disenfranchise low-income individuals, minorities and the elderly, even though local registrars offered free photo IDs in advance to any registered voter who needed one. The Department of Elections issued roughly 3,000 free IDs before Tuesday.

Initial feedback on voter ID-related problems at the polls, however, showed some — but not an overwhelming number — of photo ID complications.

Out of more than 2.1 million ballots cast Tuesday, the Department of Elections said 773 voters had to submit provisional ballots because they couldn’t present photo ID. Voters then had until the end of the week to present proper ID for their votes to count.

Voters were far more likely to cast provisional ballots for other, unspecified reasons or because they had no voter registration records than because they couldn’t present proper ID, according to the Department of Elections.

Mansfield didn’t yet have official figures on call volume related to problems with the new requirement, but told Watchdog.org on Wednesday “issues really were minimal, if at all.”

That’s likely attributable to educational efforts by the media, candidates and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which hosted a voter-help hotline all day Tuesday.

“It’s all about keeping Virginians’ confidence in the system,” Obenshain said, on a day when election officials received multiple reports about vote-flipping and other issues in two dozen precincts in Newport News and Virginia Beach. “It’s always concerning when there are problems, whether they’re mechanical or otherwise. This is all about integrity and voter confidence. And what I tell people when they ask me about, what are your statistics on voter fraud? I tell them, for the sake of argument, it doesn’t matter.

“If it is undermining voter confidence and the integrity of our system, it is a problem,” Obenshain added. “If the machines are not working, if they are malfunctioning across the board in a broad fashion, that does undermine voter confidence and we need to look at it and figure out what happened.”

Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached on Twitter @kathrynw5.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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