A year after controversial voter identification legislation passed the Virginia General Assembly, several Republican lawmakers are proposing even greater restrictions on the identification required to cast a ballot, including the requirement of photo identification.
Del. Robert B. Bell, R-Albemarle, will introduce what he terms "Photo ID — No Exceptions", a measure that would require voters to present valid government-issued photo identification in order to vote. Acquiring the identification would also require proof of U.S. citizenship, which the Virginia Department of Motor vehicles requires to obtain identification.
"Voting is how a free people govern themselves," said Bell, who is carrying the legislation that was introduced last year by fellow Del. Daniel W. Marshall III, R-Danville. Marshall's bill made it out of a House committee on a GOP party line vote, only to fail on the House floor.
"It is the basis of self government, and it should not be debased by the votes of people who don't have the right to vote," Bell added.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, also plans to introduce legislation that would require photo identification, as well as legislation that would require the DMV to forward its photo identification database to the State Board of Elections.
"I've long been a proponent of photo ID," said Obenshain, who has proposed similar legislation since 2005.
Bell and Obenshain are candidates for the Republican nomination for attorney general.
Currently, 11 states require some form of photo identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Virginia voters are not required to present photo identification to cast a regular ballot at the polls, but can present a variety of IDs, including utility bills, paychecks, college identification cards and even concealed handgun carry permits.
The list was expanded last year by legislation that also removed the ability of people without ID to cast a regular ballot by simply signing an affidavit attesting to their identity.
Critics of last year's Voter ID law feared it would suppress turnout among young, elderly and minority voters, who might be less likely to carry identification acceptable under the revised Virginia law.
Those concerns prompted Gov. Bob McDonnell to have the elections board mail new voter registration ID cards to all active voters.
Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Spotsylvania, is seeking to undo provisions of the existing voter ID law, by eliminating the part that allows voters to present a utility bill, bank statement, government check or pay stub to cast a regular ballot.
Voting rights advocates Monday blasted the proposals, calling them another attempt at suppression that would make it harder to vote.
"Proposals like this that make it harder to participate in our democracy undermine our constitutional protections and silence the voice of the people," said Katie O'Connor, staff attorney of the Advancement Project.
Obenshain countered that such bills are only "intended to suppress the vote of one category of people — fraudulent voters."
Meanwhile, Democrats are readying legislation that would make it easier to cast a vote.
Sen. Janet D. Howell, D-Fairfax, is reintroducing legislation that would allow Virginians to vote early by absentee ballot without the need to provide an excuse. Del. Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico, has introduced a similar bill.