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Could Virginia's Voter ID Law Swing an Election?

You've probably read about the problems that many voters - especially older voters - have encountered under voter ID laws, many of which are relatively new. (There was the recent case, for example, of former House Speaker Jim Wright being turned away because, at 90, he didn't have a valid driver's license.) Among those who may have to make long trips to government offices to obtain voter ID cards are people without driver's licenses (which, like Wright, many older Americans may no longer have), student or employee ID cards (which older Americans likely may not have had for years), or - in the curious case of Virginia - a handgun permit (I guess maybe some older Americans have those).

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Think about it: Every citizen (with the exception of convicted felons) has the right to vote. When voter ID requirements make it difficult to exercise that right, chaos may follow.


Yep, for many Americans, voting can be a difficult enterprise. The result? Some a may choose not to go through the hassle, and others may show up at polling places without state-sanctioned ID and have to file provisional ballots.

This week, with voter ID laws in effect for the first election in some places, we started to see these very real effects playing out.

Take Virginia, for example.

On Tuesday, the race for attorney general there was incredibly close - with only 481 votes out of more than 2 million votes cast separating  Republican Mark Obenshain, who's now leading, and Democrat Mark Herring. But there are likely to be lots of provisional ballots to be counted, as voters who did not have the required identification at the polls have until Nov. 7 to present their ID and thereby allow their votes to be counted. The state then has three weeks to finish counting these ballots, as well as those that weren't tallied because of other issues.

The fallout? Virginia voters probably won't know until around Thanksgiving just who will serve as AG - or, as the Washington Post put it, "Almost Governor," as the attorney general is often a top contender for governor in future elections. Even then, though, if the race is still a nail-biter, the "losing" candidate may ask for a recount, forcing the people of Virginia to wait even longer to find out who will be the state's top law enforcement officer.

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And when the very last vote is officially counted, a troubling question may remain: What if the entire election turns on eligible voters who couldn't or didn't want to go through the trouble of making a second trip to guarantee that their ballots were counted - perhaps having to take time off work, pay for a taxicab, or spend hours trying to find, say, their birth certificate?

In such a case, you could make the argument that the voter ID law turned the outcome of the election.

AARP has been on the forefront of this issue, participating in lawsuits challenging voter ID laws and arguing that older Americans are disproportionately affected.

Photo: U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services


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