Virginia election officials don’t know how Virginia’s photo ID law works, causing confusion at the polls

Virginia has now undergone two general elections with its new-ish photo ID law. One would think that its election officials charged with implementing the law would know how it works.

But for the second general election in a row, confusion among poll workers as to the law’s requirements have led to uneven and at times illegal implementation of the law. This year, even Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was inappropriately questioned about his address before being allowed to cast a ballot.

From the Virginian-Pilot:

Virginia’s voter ID law went into effect July 1, 2014, and requires voters to present an acceptable form of photo identification such as a driver’s license, state employee ID badge, passport or student photo ID from a Virginia university.

Among problems reported: Election workers inappropriately questioned the address on driver’s licenses and asked for a second photo ID; some workers didn’t ask for an ID; and some inappropriately rejected the state ID badge, [state elections uniformity supervisor Gary] Fox said.

When Governor McAuliffe showed up to vote, a precinct worker objected that the address on his drivers license did not match the address they had for him on the voter rolls, which was the Governor’s Mansion. However, under the law, the address on the ID used for identification is irrelevant, as the ID is only used to identify the voter. The voter is supposed to verify their address verbally when they check in.

Mark Obenshain.

Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain, who sponsored Virginia’s photo ID law.

As other states have learned the hard way, the biggest effect voter ID laws have isn’t preventing voter fraud, as voter impersonation fraud is statistically nonexistent. It isn’t even the disenfranchisement of eligible voters who lack ID, although that effect is real enough — and racially disproportionate enough — that many such laws will likely not survive court challenges. Instead, the biggest effect voter ID laws have is that it makes the electoral process confusing, which discourages eligible voters who have valid ID from turning out.

The ironic thing about all this is that the same conservatives who remind us all the time about how the government that governs best is the government that governs least are still gung-ho about photo ID laws designed to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, and that create problems that shouldn’t exist. If ever there was an argument in favor of rolling back unnecessary government regulations, it’s Virginia’s implementation of its photo ID law. For some reason, though, I doubt that Republican lawmakers in the state are going to push for repeal any time soon.

Just 41.6% of registered voters turned out to vote in Virginia in 2014. While official results have yet to be certified, this year’s figure is looking like it will be closer to 26% (with no federal or statewide races on the ballot, it was expected to be lower). This means that many, if not most, of the people who show up to vote in next year’s presidential election will not have been subjected to the photo ID requirement, so maybe the state will implement the law correctly on the third go-round.

Given their track record, however, I wouldn’t get your hopes up.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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