On Wednesday, Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) questioned the partisan effort of the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections to act to ensure the continued integrity of the electoral process in Virginia.
Obenshain's Senate Bill 134 was passed by indefinitely in committee on a 6-5 party line vote.
He says, “Voter identification requirements are a commonsense way to ensure that elections are free and fair. Fraudulent or erroneously counted ballots reduce the impact of legitimately-cast votes and are unfair to everyone involved.
“Opponents of this measure like to counter voter identification requirements by pointing out how few people are prosecuted for voter fraud, but this misses the point. Firstly, because we currently allow people to vote without showing any form of identification, we have no way to even detect voter fraud. Secondly, how many fraudulently cast ballots must there be for us to take simple steps to ensure the integrity of our elections?
“Some like to insist that there isn't a problem, but that's naïve. A John Hopkins University Study identified 1,500 deceased Marylanders who had ‘voted' in recent elections, and one county in New Mexico found 75 registrants at a single address. Right here in Virginia, campaign headquarters, vacant lots and non-existent addresses have all been listed on many registration forms.”
Obenshain's voter identification bill would require voters to show some form of identification at the polls, and expands the list of identifying documents to include utility bills, bank statements, paychecks, and government checks. Currently, individuals who fail to bring identification may vote by signing a statement in lieu of showing identification.
“Right now, even if the registrar somehow discovered that a voter wasn't who he claimed on Election Day, there's nothing they could do; there would be no way to find and remove a ballot even if it was later determined to be fraudulently cast,” says Obenshain. “Had my bill passed, those who arrived at their polling place without any form of identification could cast a provisional ballot, which would be counted if they were able to demonstrate their identification before the certification of election results.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld similar laws in other states, and by adding alternative forms of identification, Obenshain's bill ensures that no eligible voter is disenfranchised by the inability to produce the forms of identification required under current law. In 2005, the bipartisan Carter-Baker Panel, headed by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of State James Baker, recommended identification requirements stricter than the ones contained in this legislation.
Obenshain adds, “This is not about making it harder to vote or keeping anyone from voting. It's about making sure that every legitimate vote counts, and that those votes are not diluted by voter fraud.
“I was disappointed by the partisan nature of the opposition to this initiative, but not surprised. Whether they wish to admit it or not, though, voter fraud is an issue, and simple, commonsense safeguards like these will go a long way to ensure that our elections remain above reproach.”
Obenshain represents the 26th district in the Virginia Senate. The district includes the city of Harrisonburg and the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and Rockingham (part).