Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell [official website] announced on Monday that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] has approved the state's new voter identification law [materials]. The DOJ found that the new law does not violate the Voting Rights Act [text]. Virginia had previously required ID at the polls but had allowed citizens to vote without ID if they signed an affidavit swearing to their identity. The new law eliminates the affidavit option but adds several new acceptable forms of identification, including utility bills and Virginia college IDs. The law was signed by McDonnell [JURIST report] in May, but Virginia is one of 16 states that must receive from the DOJ Section 5 preclearances [DOJ backgrounder] under the VRA. The VRA was enacted to put an end to the systematic disenfranchisement of minority voters that ran rampant in Southern districts in the 1960s. Section 5 relies heavily on patterns of past discrimination to determine which state, county and local governments must obtain preclearance for election changes. In addition to signing the bill, the governor issued an executive order [text, PDF] in May directing the state Board of Elections to send new voter ID cards to all Virginia voters.
There are now more than 30 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including 17 states that have passed laws that require a photo ID. Last month, the Brennan Center for Justice [advocacy website] released a report [JURIST report] describing the burden on Americans who must obtain government-issued photo ID to comply with restrictive state voter ID laws. The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification [report, PDF; press release] is the first comprehensive assessment of the difficulties that eligible voters face in obtaining free photo ID in order to vote. Ten states—Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin—now carry the most restrictive "no photo, no vote" type of voter ID law. Laws in Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas must receive Section 5 clearances in order to take effect. Last week a judge for the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court declined to issue an injunction [JURIST report] to prevent the state's voter ID law [HB 943 materials] from taking effect. The judge found that the law is "a reasonable, non-discriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the widespread use of photo ID in daily life."