The Virginia House of Delegates passed a measure on Wednesday that would require residents to show proof of citizenship before registering to vote.
The bill is the latest example of several voting restrictions that Republicans are pushing across the country as President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that millions voted illegally in last year’s election. While the office of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) says he would veto the bill and Republicans do not have a veto-proof legislative majority, the bill signals the kinds of voting restrictions that Republicans in different states are on the verge of passing under Trump.
Virginia already has a photo ID requirement, but the citizenship measure would require residents to show a passport, birth certificate, naturalization document or other federally accepted documents in order to register to vote in local elections. It would not apply to voters registered before Jan. 1, 2018.
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that states could not require proof of citizenship on a federal voter registration form. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Trump adviser, had been enforcing the provision, which prevented tens of thousands from being able to vote over several years.
Even though the Virginia requirement only applies to local elections, voting rights advocates said it was no different from the Kansas system.
“Requiring documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote is a sure way to disenfranchise eligible voters. The failed Kansas experiment ― where the documentary proof of citizenship requirement has blocked tens of thousands of eligible voters from registering ― makes this undeniably clear,” Sophia Lakin, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, wrote in an email. “The federal courts have recognized this time and time again in blocking the requirement for federal elections.”
“Bifurcating the registration system, as the Virginia bill attempts to do, will only make matters worse. Different registration requirements for different elections will be an administrative nightmare. It will be difficult to implement properly and confuse voters and elections officials alike,” she continued.
While the Virginia measure will be blocked by the state’s Democratic governor, restrictive photo ID measures are being considered in Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas. Republicans control the legislatures and governorships of each of those states and the restrictions are likely to pass.
Trump and his White House have insisted that millions of Americans voted illegally in last year’s elections, but there is no evidence to back up the claim. Several studies of voter fraud, including one over five years by the Department of Justice in the 2000s, have found it to be exceptionally rare.