A Republican bill that imposes identity requirements for voting in Virginia passed the Senate on Monday thanks to Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's tie-breaking vote.
The measure requires that voters bring to their polling places some government-issued identification such as a driver's license, voter registration card or Social Security card. Sufficient alternatives to prove residency would include a current utility bill or bank statement.
Those who don't have identification would be allowed to vote a provisional ballot that is counted after election day only if the voter returns to the local registrar with the needed identification.
The voter ID bill generated bitter opposition from Democrats, particularly African-American senators who said it was akin to Jim Crow-era efforts to suppress black votes in a battleground state bracing for bruising presidential and senatorial campaigns.
Sen. Henry Marsh, a lawyer involved in the legal fight to desegregate public schools 50 years ago, said the bill would similarly put new obstacles before the poor, elderly, disabled and others. "This is one more barrier beyond those that have been erected over the years," Marsh said.
Republicans said the bill mirrors federal voter identification requirements.
"That is all this bill does, it discourages fraud. You have to have an ID to buy beer, to buy cigarettes, to get on a bus, a train, to cash a check, to do just about anything, and we've been telling people for decades, you have to have an ID to vote. It's just a requirement that we've turned a blind eye to," said Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.
Democrats noted that supporters of the bill have provided no evidence of people casting votes fraudulently. Rather, said Sen. Yvonne Miller, D-Norfolk, the problem has been apathy, people staying home on election day, and the new ID requirements would only worsen the problem.
But voter I.D. requirements have not depressed voter turnout in other states, say some experts, and voter fraud turns up occasionally but regularly in local and state elections around the country. A 2003 scandal in East Chicago resulted in 32 convictions over a Democratic mayoral primary, for example, and last month the South Carolina attorney general sent to the U.S. Justice Department, following an investigation prompted by the Department's questioning of a voter I.D. law in that state, a list of 953 instances in which "dead" people had voted.
Del. Mark Cole's voter identification bill returns to the House for concurrence with amendments that were added to it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.