|Action||Revise Valid Definition|
|Comment Period||Ends 8/4/2014|
Change of Definition of Valid
Thank you for the opportunity to submit written testimony on the proposed changes to 1VAC20-45-40. I write today on behalf of my organization, the Fair Elections Legal Network.
The Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) is a nonpartisan organization based in Washington, DC, with a focus on election administration policy and practice. Since our founding in 2006, we have provided information and materials to voter registration and civic engagement groups across the country and have advocated for policy and practices that make the ballot box accessible for all eligible voters. We work with registrars in Virginia and have met with the Board of Elections on numerous occasions to address election administration issues. Additionally, I am a Virginia licensed attorney and serve as an election officer in Fairfax County.
The proposed change to the definition of valid for photo voter ID purposes complicates an already rushed implementation process, while possibly confusing voters in reaction to a nonexistent problem.
At a State Board of Elections hearing on June 10, board members heard testimony from community groups, voters, and county registrars, the very people tasked with enforcing this ID standard at the polls. The registrars present stated that an expiration date does not aid or hinder the ability of an election official to determine that a voter is who is pictured on an ID, which is the exact purpose of the new photo ID law. The SBE then voted to only take into consideration a voter’s name, picture and the authenticity of an ID when deciding whether an ID is “valid.” There was no testimony offered in support of requiring only unexpired IDs to serve as photo ID for voting purposes.
Senator Obenshain’s letter to the SBE, which prompted this reconsideration of the definition of valid, makes clear that he believes only IDs which serve their intended purpose outside of voting (driving or traveling internationally in the case of driver’s licenses and passports), and are therefore unexpired, should be eligible for voter ID purposes. The proposed replacement definition for valid of “having legal effect, legally or officially acceptable or of binding force” falls squarely within the demands of Senator Obenshain’s letter.
If an election official seeks to ensure that a voter is who they say they are when checking in to vote, having a genuine ID which provides their name and picture should suffice. Whether a voter’s passport or driver’s license has expired does nothing to make an ID with a picture any more or less genuine or fulfilling of the law’s purpose. If the intention is merely identification, an expired ID can serve this purpose and requiring voters to present an ID which has not lapsed provides unnecessary hurdles to voting under an ever-changing standard.
We need look no further than the free ID that Virginia will be providing to voters without ID to see that an expiration date is not needed to prove identity. The official Virginia Photo ID card for voters will not contain an expiration date.
Many student IDs and most employee IDs, both forms of acceptable photo ID under the current law, do not contain expiration dates. Moreover, if we require all IDs to serve the purpose for which they were originally intended, students would be required to prove their current status of enrollment at their university and workers would be required to prove employment status when using their employee ID. Requiring only some voters to prove the binding force of their ID, while allowing others to present an ID without an expiration date under a presumption of validity, creates two distinct classes of voters under the new ID law and denies all voters equal access to voting this November.
As in previous ID law implementation efforts, the SBE is relying on community partners to educate voters on what will be required to vote in November. Beginning on the first day of the laws validity, civic engagement groups across Virginia, including FELN, have worked to provide informative materials and to explain to voters what will be required of them this year at the polls. Changing the ID standard to require all IDs to be unexpired just weeks before Election Day will only serve to confuse voters and nullify any educational outreach which has been completed between implementation and the change.
If the General Assembly sought to require unexpired IDs as voter ID Senator Obenshain could, and should have stated that explicitly in the bill’s language as was done in a version requiring “current and valid” IDs. Changing the standards yet again mere weeks before Election Day ensures that fewer voters will cast a ballot that counts.