By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House Judiciary Committee sent a bare-bones, edited version of a new voter-identification law to the chamber floor Thursday for consideration by the full West Virginia House of Delegates.
The original bill would have required state-issued photo identification to vote, making West Virginia one of the strictest states, in terms of voting standards.
However, the new version of the bill only delays last year’s voter identification law — which has not yet been enacted — until July 1, 2019.
The new bill also stops a requirement that the Division of Motor Vehicles forward to the Secretary of State’s Office information from anyone who opts out of registering to vote.
To cast a ballot under the originally proposed bill, voters would have needed to present a driver’s license, West Virginia identification card, a government-issued employee photo identification card or a military photo identification card.
The House passed a similar proposal last year, although the Senate whittled it down to the state’s new standards, where voters can use almost any form of identification, including a hunting license, bank card or even another adult to vouch for their identity to a poll worker.
Voter identification has been polarizing state legislatures across the country. Opponents say it’s a means of disenfranchising poor, elderly and minority voters who tend to lack state identification more than other demographics, and also tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
On the flip side, proponents of the bill say it’s a necessary move to combat voter fraud.
In an interview before the bill went into subcommittee, Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, who also is the lead sponsor of the proposal, said her constituents have provided her enough anecdotal evidence to convince her that stricter laws are needed.
There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in West Virginia.
Blair could not be reached for comment on the updated bill.
Joseph Cohen, executive director of the West Virginia American Civil Liberties Union, lauded the committee substitute for the original bill.
“We’re very happy to see that the bill that was introduced has been dramatically improved,” he said. “We’re opposed to voter ID laws, in principle, but we’re very, very happy to see that the legislation that the subcommittee came out with would not make last year’s law any worse.”
Last year’s law and this year’s bill call for voters to present one of the following at a poll to vote: a government-issued identification card, with or without a photo; a college or high school identification card; a health insurance card; a utility bill; a bank card or bank statement; or another adult who has known the voter for six months or more confirming his or her identity to the poll worker.
Last year’s law is scheduled to take effect July 1 of this year. If the Legislature and governor approve Thursday’s bill, it will be delayed until July 1, 2019.
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