Opinion

Proposed voter ID legislation is misguided and unnecessary

The Herald-Dispatch editorial

It seems like it was just last year that the West Virginia Legislature debated and approved a bill that modified identification requirements for voters in the Mountain State, basically requiring them for the first time to show some form of identification before they can cast a ballot. In fact, it was just a year ago.

So why is the legislature revisiting it now, even before the legislation that was passed last year goes into effect on July 1?

House Bill 2781 was introduced during the current session and as written would significantly reduce the options for voters to provide identification for voting. Under the new proposal, the only acceptable forms of identification would be a valid West Virginia driver’s license; a West Virginia DMV-issued photo ID card; a valid driver’s license issued in any other state; a valid U.S. passport; a valid federal or state government-issued employee identification card; and a valid U.S. military identification card. The law still would allow for provisional ballots to be cast until election authorities can verify the identity of a voter without a valid photo ID and determine whether that person’s vote would be counted. However, that creates more hassle for voters.

Under the legislation passed last year and now state law, voters had far more options. Those included state- and federal-issued identification, regardless of associated photo, including voter ID cards; any government permits; any college- or high school-issued ID; a health insurance card; a utility bill from six months prior to the election; a bank card or bank statement from six months prior to the election; or verification from another adult, including a poll worker who has known the voter for at least six months and will sign an affidavit to that effect.

It’s unclear why the bill passed last year was acceptable then and apparently is no longer up to snuff, at least to the nine Republican delegates who are sponsoring the new legislation. But the upshot of the proposed changes are pretty clear and was spelled out aptly by Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell. He noted during a House Judiciary Committee meeting on the new bill last week that the proposed required forms of identification mean that voters would need to either serve in the military, work for the government or pay money to vote if they do not already have one of the required pieces of identification.

Viewed from that perspective, it seems critics of the legislation might be correct in saying the measure would suppress voter participation.

Presumably, the motivation for the new proposal is to combat voter fraud. But the type of fraud that such a voter ID bill as this would address – one person trying to impersonate another voter at the polls – is rare, according to various studies by the government and other groups. West Virginia’s new secretary of state campaigned last fall partly on a platform of rooting out voter fraud, yet has not provided any examples of people impersonating eligible voters to cast ballots.

This legislation is misguided and will only impose an unnecessary hardship on a portion of West Virginia residents. The law approved last year is adequate, and lawmakers should give it a chance to work before meddling with it further.

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