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Virginia Democrats kill voter ID bill backed by new GOP governor

Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin promised on the campaign trail to boost election integrity, but the latest vote shows the Democrat-controlled Senate has little interest in rolling back recently passed voting laws.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — Virginia Democrats fired their first legislative volley against the state’s new Republican governor and his election reform promises Tuesday.

Harrisonburg-area Republican state Senator Mark Obenshain's bill would have required Virginians to show photo ID in order to vote.

“Voters should have to prove who they say they are,” he said during a meeting of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee at the state Capitol on Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve had a lot of debate over the integrity of elections. I’m not going to rewrite history. This is a commonsense way to address those concerns.” 

Armed with polling that shows 80% of Americans support photo ID requirements, Obenshain's calls for election integrity echoed those of Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin on the campaign trail. 

"Virginians should not worry that votes aren’t counted properly or that improper voting occurred," Youngkin told Fox News last year. His promises included “strengthening Virginia’s voter identification in all methods of voting.”

Though the governor wasn’t present for Tuesday’s hearing, his Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Aliscia Andrews spoke in defense of the effort, saying photo ID would ease voter concerns. 

“We want to make sure that every person in the commonwealth has confidence in their vote, and making sure they have a photo ID makes them feel that way,” she said. 

But Democrats on the committee killed the legislation in a 9-6 vote along party lines. 

“Today, we let Virginia Republicans know that we aren’t backing down in our effort to protect every Virginian’s right to participate in our government,” said Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds, chair of the committee, in a statement after the vote.

Attempts to reach Youngkin for comment following the vote were not returned by press time. 

Over in the state House, Democratic Delegate Cia Price, who helped author the rollback of photo ID requirements and make Virginia's election laws some of the most progressive in the country, said she was grateful for the Senate’s nixing of the photo ID bill. 

She also called Republican efforts to add a photo requirement as a misrepresentation of current laws. 

“We support voter ID, but not photo ID,” she said of her legislation passed last year which expanded acceptable forms of ID to include photo IDs alongside voter confirmation documents, current utility bills and bank statement, among other photoless identifiers

Price cited the fraud-free 2021 election of Youngkin as evidence of the law's success. She also pointed to her 101-year-old great aunt who had issues with her birth certificate that kept her from getting a state-issued ID, which is not uncommon among older Black Americans. Price said being able to use utility bills helped. 

“There were ways she could prove herself other than this one specific form of ID,” she said. 

Obenshain’s bill is far from the last GOP-driven bill aiming to roll back Democratic election laws. Among them are efforts to do away with ballot drop boxes, require more identifying information from mail-in ballot witnesses and end same-day voter registration.

In the House of Delegates, where conservatives are the majority, Republican bills are likely to fly through hearings before they hit the brick wall that is the state Senate. 

Price said that wall will need to hold if the state's voting laws are to be protected. She pointed to efforts in other states to rollback pandemic-era voting laws that led to some of the largest election turnouts in the nation's history.

"Democracy is depending on the Senate to do the right thing," she said.

Virginia’s 2022 legislative session runs through mid-March.

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