Just a few thousand VA voters request free photo IDs before election day


GOT ID? With Virginia’s new photo ID requirement, only a few thousand have requested a free ID.

By Kathryn Watson | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Tuesday will mark the first general election when Virginia’s controversial photo ID law will be in full swing.

But just about 3,000 voters have applied for a free photo ID from their local registrar so far.

Critics of the controversial 2013 law say it suppresses older voters and minorities, who may not have photo ID, although anyone who needs photo ID can get one for free by requesting it from a local registrar. Those who show up at the polls sans photo ID can still cast a provisional ballot that will count, as long as they show proper ID by the end of the week.

The state has estimated about 200,000 active voters out of nearly 5.3 million registered voters in the Old Dominion have no DMV identification, although other forms of ID like passports, student ID and employee ID are acceptable, too.

As of Monday, the Department of Elections reported 2,987 Virginians have applied for a free photo ID card. The average applicant age is 67, according to Rose Mansfield, executive assistant to the commissioner’s office at the Department of Elections. Another 900 are receiving temporary IDs that are good for 30 days.

Of course, it’s hard to say how much of that low figure is attributable to voters already possessing proper ID, voters being unaware of the requirement, or voters simply not making the effort to request the photo ID to vote.

Mansfield told Watchdog.org “Wednesday will be the test” of how familiar Virginians are with the state’s new law. The Department of Elections, as well as candidates and nonprofit organizations and media outlets, have raised awareness of the need for photo ID.

The city of Roanoke, Fairfax County and the city of Richmond, in that order, topped the list in the number of people who have applied for photo IDs.

The 2012 election cycle hampered the argument photo ID requirements stifle the minority vote.

In Tennessee, Georgia and Indiana, which all had strict photo ID requirements, census data shows increased participation rates among black voters in 2012. In Tennessee, black voters turned out at greater rates than white voters.

Proponents of photo ID laws claim there’s still potential for fraud with Virginia’s law, as ID that’s been expired for up to one year still counts and the photo ID requirement doesn’t apply to absentee ballots.

As of Monday, the Department of Elections says 118,218 absentee ballots have already been cast.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which has criticized the state’s photo ID laws over access concerns, plans to have a hotline open during Election Day for voters to call in with questions and concerns.

Despite the controversy, Virginians overwhelmingly support some form of photo ID at the polls. According to a February 2013 Quinnipiac poll, that support crosses party and racial differences.

The survey of 1,112 registered voters in the Old Dominion revealed that overall, Virginians support a photo ID law, 75-23 percent. That support was 95-4 percent among Republicans, 57-41 percent among Democrats, and 78-20 percent among Independents.

White voters favored photo ID requirements 79-19 percent, while black voters favored such requirements 66-34 percent.

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org.