By JAKE ZUCKERMAN
CHARLESTON, W. Va. — The House Judiciary Committee worked through a bill Wednesday to require West Virginians to present government-issued photo identification at the polls before casting a ballot.
After an hour of discussion, the committee sent the bill (HB 2781) down to a subcommittee for further review.
Should it pass, the bill would trump sections of existing legislation (HB 4013), which passed last year and is scheduled to take effect in 2018. That law calls for a lower standard of identification for voters, allowing for bank statements, hunting licenses or having an adult or poll worker vouch for a familiar voter’s identity.
Wednesday’s bill calls residents to show poll workers a valid driver’s license, a West Virginia identification card, a U.S. passport or passport card, an employee photo identification card issued by a government agency or a military photo I.D.
The bill would ban the use of high school or college identification cards, birth certificates, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families identification cards, utility bills, bank cards and other forms of I.D.
Critics of voter identification laws say they serve as a method of preventing poor, minority and elderly voters from casting a ballot. Proponents say they are a necessary maneuver to combat voter fraud.
Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said state identification cards, drivers’ licenses, passports and passport cards all cost money. Thus, voters would need to either serve in the military, work for the government or pay money to vote if they do not already have photo identification.
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said the legislation would narrow the required identification forms for voting and ultimately decrease voter turnout.
The new bill also would repeal sections of the 2016 bill requiring the Division of Motor Vehicles to automatically register people to vote when they apply for a license or identification.
The bill’s introduction states that it contains provisions for the DMV to issue free I.D. cards, although counsel later clarified that this clause actually comes from the 2016 bill. Neither document offers a cost estimate of issuing the identification cards.
Jill Dunn, who appeared on behalf of the DMV at Wednesday’s hearing, said the bill puts too heavy a strain on the office.
The bill also allows voters who show up to a poll without valid identification to vote via provisional ballot, and return to their respective election authority with proper identification to validate their vote.
After the hearing, Eli Baumwell, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said voter identification laws are a solution without a problem.
“There is absolutely no need for voter I.D. laws,” he said. “They suppress voting and address a problem that doesn’t exist.”
He said the Legislature came out with a fair compromise last year and said it’s “sad and disappointing” to see delegates try to walk back their agreement.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, said he supports the bill because his constituents are concerned about the potential for voter fraud, and he believes it will work as a deterrent in future elections.
“Part of this is preemptive to make sure we’re not having an issue,” he said. “But also, when it comes to my constituents, they’ve told me that voter fraud is something they’re concerned about.”
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