By DANYEL VANREENEN
The Journal of Martinsburg
The bill will accomplish a number of things, according to a note at the foot of the proposal.
“The purpose of this bill is to require voters to provide a photo identification when voting,” the document says.
In its current form, the bill specifies what forms of ID a voter may use at the poll. Those include:
¯ A West Virginia driver’s license or ID card.
¯ A driver’s license from another state.
¯ A United States passport or passport card.
¯ An employee ID card with a photograph issued by any branch, department, agency or entity of the United States Government or of the State of West Virginia, or by any county, municipality, board, authority or other political subdivision of West Virginia.
¯A student ID card with a photograph from an institution of higher education or a valid high school in West Virginia.
¯ A military ID card issued by the United States with a photograph.
Under this bill, voters will present one of the forms of ID to a poll clerk, and the clerk will verify that the name on the ID matches the name on the voter registration card.
Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the law would put West Virginia more in line with other states.
“Additionally, the bill does away with automatic voter registration on the occasion of application for a driver’s license,” the proposal says.
Natalie Holcomb, public information specialist for the West Virginia DMV, said drivers would still be able to register to vote at the DMV, but the process would cease to be automatic.
Currently, the DMV is required to send all customer license and ID application information to the Secretary of State’s office even if the applicant does not want to register to vote. The DMV is also required to send all information on a license application to the Secretary of State’s Office if customers only want to change their address, according to Natalie Holcomb, public information specialist for the West Virginia DMV.
“In its current form, HB 2781 has been amended and would eliminate the DMV’s ‘automatic’ release of customer’s information to the Secretary of State, unless the customer affirmatively wanted to register to vote,” Holcomb said.
“Photo identification is necessary in order to ensure legitimacy in our elections,” Blair said.
Although photo identification is the main focus of the bill, it also provides for provisional ballots for voters who don’t have the proper photo identification documents.
“If the person desiring to vote is unable to furnish a valid identifying document, or if the poll clerk determines that the proof of identification presented by the voter does not qualify as a valid identifying document, the person desiring to vote shall be permitted to cast a provisional ballot after executing an affidavit affirming his or her identity,” the bill says.
Provisional ballots would be counted after the election authority verifies the identity of the voter by comparing the voter’s signature to the current signature on file with the election authority and determines that the voter was eligible to cast a ballot at the polling place where the ballot was cast.
The bill also provides exemptions for those living in nursing care facilities and for those with religious objections to having a photo taken.
The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia does not support the bill, however. Joseph Cohen, executive director of ACLU-WV, said the bill attacks the most fundamental freedom Americans have — voting.
“Studies show voter participation goes down in places with voter ID laws,”Cohen said. “It really affects people living on the margins who don’t have the right forms of ID.”
According to Cohen, voter ID laws seek to eliminate voter impersonation and fraud, but he said that’s a situation that rarely occurs.
“ID laws are trying to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” Cohen said.
HB 2781 is currently being considered in the House Judiciary Committee.
Staff writer Danyel VanReenen can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or on Twitter @DVanReenenJN.