The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

RICHMOND – A Senate panel on Tuesday squashed a Republican effort to bring back a law that would require voters to show photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Members of the Democratic-led Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted along party lines to kill the measure sponsored by state Sens. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, and Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham County.

Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg.

Another Peake-measure that would have repealed a law passed in 2020 allowing voters to register in person up to and including the day of the election also failed by a 9-6 party-line vote. 

Democrats in 2020 rescinded Virginia’s photo ID law which former Gov. Bob McDonell, a Republican, signed in 2013. Under current law, voters may present various forms of identification such as a driver’s license, passport, voter registration documents, bank statements, paychecks or any government document that shows the name and address of the voter. A photo ID is not required to cast a ballot. 

Peake said Tuesday that national polling shows that upwards of 70 percent of Americans approve of “some type of photo ID” in order to vote. He said that when Virginia first passed its photo ID requirement, photo Identification cards were made available, free-of-charge, from any General Registrar’s office. 

“It is not burdensome, it is not stopping anyone from voting, it restores integrity,” Peake said. “Because as we’ve seen last year, when someone doesn’t like the way the vote turns out, they can attack the integrity, and nobody had to prove who they were. This eliminates that avenue of somebody attacking the integrity of the election.”

Clara Wheeler, a senior fellow with the Virginia Institute for Public Policy and a former member of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said that the Virginia Department of Elections 

went through “a lot of trouble and activity” to create for anyone the ability to come into a registrar’s office and get a free photo ID, which she said was “the genesis of this being such a good bill.” Bringing back the photo ID requirement for voters would “certainly help us to clean up a lot of questions surrounding identity for voting,” Wheeler said.

And Aliscia Andrews, Deputy Secretary of Administration, said that the Youngkin administration embraced the measure because it would make sure that every person in the commonwealth has confidence when they go to place their vote. “We want to make sure the process isn’t cumbersome and harder, we want to make sure that it is easier for people to vote, not harder,” she said.

Obenshain, the bill’s chief patron, weighed bringing back the photo ID law against the requirement by some states for workers to show they have been inoculated against COVID-19. “Over the course of this past year, Americans have been asked to show proof of vaccination, even in order to be able to work,” he said. “This is simply restoring the requirement of showing an identification,” Obenshain said of his proposal. “We went through an elaborate process to make sure there is no barrier to anybody obtaining an identification through the system that we put together. This requirement goes back to the way it was.”

But opponents of photo ID legislation say that it disenfranchises individuals who may not have access to photo identification and that it disproportionately impacts low-income individuals, racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. According to a 2015 study by Project Vote, about 7% of the U.S. population lacks photo ID, especially among lower-income individuals, those under the age of 20 and ethnic minorities.

Pamela Berg with the League of Women voters said that bringing back the photo ID law just isn’t necessary. “These bills were purported to prevent or hinder fraudulent impersonation of voters,” she said. “But it is already a felony to impersonate a voter, and it happens so rarely as to be insignificant.”

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.