WashPost's Vozzella Gives Credence to Democrats Blasting Virginia Voter ID Proposals As Jim Crow Measure

Updated at bottom of post | Virginia Republicans proposing voter ID laws in the state's General Assembly are akin to racist Jim Crow poll workers, lynch mobs, and even Josef Stalin. Those comparisons were all made in the first seven paragraphs of Laura Vozzella's February 4 Metro section front page article, "Voter ID fight heats up in Va."*

Vozzella, who previously has complained about Virginia GOP legislators' "slew of conservative bills" front-loaded her Saturday article with the overwrought rhetoric, which she, of course, failed to dismiss as overheated rhetoric:

RICHMOND — How many bubbles are there in a bar of soap? That’s the sort of question that Del. Algie T. Howell (D-Norfolk) says Virginia poll workers threw at his father in the days of Jim Crow.

“They would ask you questions for which there really was no answer,” Howell said. “Regardless as to what you say, it’s the wrong answer. There was no way for you to pass the literacy test.”

Today, a very different question gets popped at Virginia polls: “Can I see some ID?”

Howell puts that seemingly innocuous, modern-day query in the same league as the overtly racist old one. He and other Democrats spent this week warning that a Republican-led push for stricter voter identification rules — in Virginia’s General Assembly and around the country — is a thinly veiled effort to suppress the minority vote.

Republicans in Virginia and elsewhere have advocated “voter integrity” bills that would impose stricter ID standards on voters. No fewer than 17 of them have been proposed in Richmond this General Assembly session.

At a rally on Capitol Square last week, former NAACP director Benjamin Chavis accused Republicans of trying to “lynch democracy.” Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones (D) said the GOP push was all because “there’s a brother in the White House.”

“The people who cast the votes don’t decide elections; the people who count the votes do,” Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax) — who said his Jewish grandmother was made to pay poll taxes in Virginia — declared on the House floor shortly before members approved a bill to ban the media and some others from observing the counting of provisional ballots. “You know who said that? Joseph Stalin.”

In the next few paragraphs, Vozzella finally got Republican reaction, which included puzzlement by one legislator over charges of racism:

Republican lawmakers contend that the measures are needed to combat voter fraud and ensure the integrity of the voting system. They note that Virginia’s notorious discrimination at the polls was perpetrated in an era when Democrats had a monopoly on political power. They also point out that Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has pushed to extend voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.

Some of the bills are aimed at ending a provision that allows people to vote without identification as long as they sign an affidavit swearing that they are who they claim to be. One of the main bills Democrats object to ends that provision but expands the forms of identification acceptable at the polls to include such things as current utility bills and paychecks.

“I broaden the kind of ID,” said Sen. Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield). “These puzzling arguments that they’ve been bringing in front of me — I will tell you that one lady came into committee and actually said . . . that we’re targeting blacks because they’re more likely to forget [their identification]. I didn’t even respond.

“I’m not going to run around being defensive about it and try to prove to somebody that I’m not a racist. I’m simply going to make good law. And it makes good law to ensure the integrity of the electoral process.”

But then Vozzella was back to work denouncing the push for more stringent voter ID laws for the Old Dominion, noting that it has "become a bitterly contentious issue across the country in recent years" and that the Obama/Holder Justice Department has challenged South Carolina's recent changes to their voter identification laws, judging it "discriminatory."

It wasn't until the very end of her article that Vozzella actually got into the policy matters of the bills facing the House of Delegates and Senate respectively:

Both HB9, which passed the House on Wednesday, and SB1, which cleared a preliminary floor vote in the Senate on Friday and is expected to pass in a final vote Monday, would still allow the voter to cast a ballot after signing the statement. But it would be a provisional ballot.

Under the House bill, sponsored by Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Fredericksburg), the provisional ballot would be counted as long as no one challenged its legitimacy.

Under Martin’s SB1, the provisional ballot would not be counted unless the voter returns with identification.

Hardly a Stalinesque soap bubble-counting bill like she warned of in the beginning of the article.

*the online version's headline reads, "Virginia lawmakers split bitterly over voter ID rules"

Update (Feb. 5, 12:10 a.m. Eastern): Jon Ham of The John Locke Foundation reminded me that no less a liberal Democrat than Jimmy Carter has spoken in favor of photo ID for elections. The issue is hardly partisan and hardly motivated by racial animus.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.