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Democrats Advance Voting Bills on Photo ID, Pre-Registration for 16 Year-Olds

A poll worker in an orange vest hands out a ballot
A poll worker hands out ballots in last June's primary elections. (Louise Keeton/VPM News)

Democratic lawmakers have advanced several bills they say will reduce barriers to voting, including the elimination of the photo ID requirement on election day.

The full Senate voted last week on a bill that would effectively allow early voting, scrapping the system of providing an excuse to vote absentee.

On Tuesday, the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee approved several other longstanding priorities for Democratic lawmakers, including scrapping the photo ID requirement and allow pre-registration of voters.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed the photo ID requirement in 2013,  arguing that it would help prevent fraud. Critics said it suppressed minority voters.

Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Newport News) took the latter approach when she presented the bill, which is backed by Gov. Ralph Northam, to the committee, describing the restriction as “burdensome, unrealistic, and in some cases discriminatory.”

Her bill, which cleared the committee and will now head to the Senate floor, would allow voters to show a variety of other documents to prove identity, including utility bills and paychecks that list name and address.

Another bill by Sen. David Marsden (D-Alexandria) would give 16 year-olds the ability to pre-register to vote. Marsden and other advocates say that the policy would increase turnout, though studies have shown mixed data on how much; one 2017 study pegged the increase at 2%.

Clara Belle Wheeler, a former Republican appointee to the Board of Elections, argued against the measure, saying that it could confuse teenagers who forget to re-register if they leave home for college.

“I think it could be very confusing,” she said.

Marsden played down those concerns, saying that address changes were common already.

“The human condition is that people move,” Marsden said.

The committee advanced both bills.

Similar bills exist in the House, where a similar committee is set to take up a number of proposals on Friday.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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