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Republican voting bills pass

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

RICHMOND (AP) — Some of the Republican-authored bills that tighten voting identification and registration requirements muscled their way through the General Assembly on Tuesday, bound for the desk of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Del. Mark Cole's bill would eliminate several forms of acceptable voter ID approved just one year ago — utility bills, bank statements, a government check. It won final passage on a largely party-line 64-36 House vote.

The measure would not take effect until 2014, however, because of a Senate amendment that the House accepted.

The measure to which Democrats most object, a requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, awaits House passage as early as Wednesday. So does a Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain's bill requiring voter registration lists to be checked against federal immigration lists to identify non-citizens.

House Republicans have unabashedly advanced several measures tightening voting requirements this year while simultaneously rejecting legislation that would have lowered some barriers to voting and reduced waiting lines up to four hours at some precincts last fall.

Among them were Democratic and Republican bills that would have expanded no-excuses absentee voting for people 65 and older, allowing them to cast ballots before election day and reducing the number of elderly voters who use curbside voting. Local election officials pushed for the change to reduce the number of elderly voters that now vote curbside, something that significantly slows voting and lengthens waiting lines on election day.

Democrats accuse Republicans of trying to legislatively rig the system this winter to achieve what they could not last November at the polls when President Barack Obama became the first Democrat since Franklin Roosevelt to carry Virginia twice in a row in a presidential race.

Republicans say the bills are targeted at voter fraud.

The Senate and House both approved legislation requiring training for groups conducting voter registration drives. But the legislation heads to a conference committee after a sharply divided Senate added a couple of amendments over the objections of the bill's Republican supporters.

One amendment carves out an exemption for college voter registration drives. Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, proposed the exemption after some college students told him the legislation would crimp their voter registration efforts. Sen. Thomas Garrett, R-Louisa, said he didn't understand "the double standard" of requiring training for other organizations but not college students. The Senate approved the amendment 21-19.

Another amendment by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, would allow elections officials to offer the training online. Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling sided with Democrats and cast a tie-breaking vote to adopt the amendment.

The Senate then voted 36-4 to pass the bill.

Obenshain, R-Shenandoah, said the bill "has been largely eviscerated" by the amendments, which likely will be rejected by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, sending the measure to conference.

The Senate also voted 25-14 to pass legislation allowing the attorney general to investigate election law violations. Currently, the attorney general can only investigate upon request by the State Board of Elections.

Bolling cast a tie-breaking vote to defeat a Democrat-backed amendment that would have allowed the attorney general to get involved only after a charge is filed.


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