Voter ID In Virginia: Poll Finds Strong Support For Controversial Program

Students cast their votes on Election Day at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. The line by midday was all around the inside of the school's basketball arena, taking more than an hour. Students were excused from class to vote. (AP Photo/News & Daily Advance, Parker Michels-Boyce)
Students cast their votes on Election Day at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. The line by midday was all around the inside of the school's basketball arena, taking more than an hour. Students were excused from class to vote. (AP Photo/News & Daily Advance, Parker Michels-Boyce)

Virginia voters strongly support requiring people to show a photo ID at the polls, a legislative proposal now headed to Gov. Bob McDonnell's desk, according to a new survey.

Respondents said by 75 percent to 23 percent that voters should be required to bring photo IDs to cast their ballots on Election Day, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

The House of Delegates on Wednesday passed a measure to require photo ID.

The survey of 1,112 registered voters conducted Feb. 14-18 found support for the idea high among Republicans, with 95 percent in favor and 4 percent opposed, while 57 percent of Democrats backed it and 41 percent were opposed. Among independents, 78 percent were in favor and 20 percent opposed.

White voters supported the idea with 79 percent in favor and 19 percent opposed. Among black voters 66 percent were in favor and 34 percent opposed.

"The voter photo ID bill is similar to ones that have been passed -- and are being challenged in court -- in a number of states. Generally, polls show similar high support levels for such requirements in a number of states in which the issue has been raised," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

"Although the measure enjoys broad public support -- including 57 percent of Democrats -- it has been controversial, with Democratic and African-American leaders opposing the legislation," he said. "The measure has majority support from all demographic groups surveyed, including black voters by 66-34 percent."

The House passed the legislation 65-34 and sent it to McDonnell, who has not said whether he will sign the bill. If McDonnell gives the bill his backing, the U.S. Department of Justice would also have to approve the proposal before it would become law in 2014.

Senate Bill 1256, sponsored by Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, would also require the state to provide free photo ID to voters who do not have such identification.

Virginia would then join a handful of states that have strict photo ID laws, including Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have passed similar legislation that is pending.

Proponents of the change say they are trying to protect the integrity of elections but opponents are concerned that it would make it harder for the elderly, poor and minorities to vote. Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, expressed doubts Wednesday on the House floor about voting fraud. "The evidence of voter-booth fraud is nonexistent," he said.

Costs of the photo ID measure are also up for debate.

The Virginia Department of Planning and Budget estimates the cost would be $200,000 per year for four years, beginning with fiscal 2015. A bulk of the cost would pay for a campaign to inform voters about the changes in requirements.

The state spent about $550,000 last year on a marketing campaign to tell voters about the changes to ID requirements made during the 2012 General Assembly session. It spent an additional $1.3 million to issue new voter registration cards to all Virginia voters.

The Virginia Board of Elections confirmed this week that it spent a total of $546,000 on a communications contract to familiarize voters with the new rules.

Regarding the photo ID measure, the planning and budget department said the cost of new equipment would be $166,250 as a one-time expense and new voter IDs would cost $3 per card, mailing included. The department estimated that 4,200 Virginia voters would request a photo ID but some groups said more than 870,000 Virginians lack the documentation or photo ID needed to vote under the bill.

Quinnipiac University's survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

The poll also showed strong support among voters, 71 percent to 23 percent, for the restoration of voting rights for nonviolent felons who have served their prison sentences.

In Virginia, only the governor can restore the voting rights of felons.

The survey showed 58 percent of Republicans backing the idea, 83 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independent voters. Among men 69 percent support it and 73 percent of women. Among white voters 67 percent support the restoration effort as do 90 percent of black voters.

McDonnell campaigned on implementing a speedier restoration-review process, and once in office he set a goal of delivering an answer to a petitioner within 60 days. In January, he called for automatic restoration of civil rights for nonviolent felons but this year's General Assembly defeated the attempt.

Voters surveyed also backed, 68 percent to 25 percent, allowing home-schooled children to play athletics on public school teams. Another attempt this year that would have essentially forced public schools to allow them to play sports was defeated in a Senate committee.

The poll shows President Barack Obama with a 51 percent job approval rating to 46 percent disapproval. He registers 40 percent approval and 57 percent disapproval from white voters. Among black voters he has 89 percent approval and 8 percent disapproval.

Sen. Mark R. Warner gets a 58 percent approval rating with 28 percent disapproval, while newly elected Sen. Timothy M. Kaine's approval rating registered at 50 percent with 33 percent disapproval.


(804) 649-6812

Reporter Markus Schmidt

contributed to this report. ___

(c)2013 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)

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