In early February, there is a bill scheduled to be heard in the Virginia Senate — it has already passed the House of Delegates — that many students here at Virginia Tech probably know nothing about. Many would say it’s time that it be brought to their attention, however, because this bill could potentially impede one of their most important rights: the right to vote.
This bill intends to eliminate affidavit voting in Virginia, which could greatly affect not just the ability of our student population to vote, but also the votes of voters statewide.
What is affidavit voting, exactly? To the best of my understanding, affidavit voting is a provision in place for people who show up at the polls in order to vote but who do not have, for whatever reason, adequate identification. These people are, under the current law, allowed to sign a statement swearing that they are in fact who they say they are, in order to cast their vote.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, why is our state legislature considering getting rid of this practice? Some, like Del. Mark Cole (who introduced the bill), think affidavit voting makes voter fraud easier and more prevalent. While it is debatable exactly how much voter fraud takes place in Virginia elections, I think most reasonable people would concede that yes, voter fraud probably happens sometimes, and no, it is probably not a problem that is running rampant. I’ve personally heard very little about major problems with voter fraud in this state, but maybe I’m just not listening to the right sources.
Why, if this bill could potentially help reduce whatever voter fraud is actually occurring, would anyone think it’s a bad idea? Well, if this bill were to become law, it would require all voters to present state-issued photo identification at the time of voting, which some say would be effectively creating a poll tax. State-issued photo identification, such as drivers’ licenses and passports, cost money.
To many of us, this may seem absurd — who doesn’t have a drivers’ license? How much can they possibly cost? But that, I would argue, is beside the point, because whoever does not have a drivers’ license, for whatever reason (monetary or other), should not be denied the right to vote.
But if this bill passes, there is some likelihood their vote won’t count. In this case, the voter lacking in state-issued identification will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot, which could potentially only be counted under certain circumstances.
What about the rest of us, most of whom are already in possession of state-issued photo identification? This is just one more hurdle to jump that can potentially complicate things on Election Day. I’ve followed politics and worked with political campaigns enough to know that the last thing we need is another factor that makes it more difficult to vote or discourages people from getting out to the polls.