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Justice Department approves Virginia voter ID law

The Justice Department has approved Virginia's new voter ID law, expanding the kinds of identification that will be honored at the polls while restricting the ability to vote without showing any ID.

Unlike states with the strictest photo ID requirement, Virginia will allow voters to cast a ballot if they present a student ID card issued by a state college or university as well as documents that carry no photo, including a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck showing the voter's name and address. 

Click here to read the Justice Department's letter to Virginia (.pdf)

The state already honors Virginia voter registration cards that have no photo, as well as more traditional forms of identification, including a driver's license or other government ID as well as an employee photo identification card.

The new law also ends the current practice of allowing a voter to cast a regular ballot simply by signing a sworn declaration of identity.  Under the new law, someone showing up at the polls without any form of identification will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot.  It will be counted only if the voter submits an approved form of identification within three days. 

But that action does not need to be carried out in person.  The confirmation can also be sent by e-mail, regular mail, or fax.  Many states with strict photo ID requirements also permit casting a provisional ballot but require submission of proof in person for the ballot to be counted.

Virginia's Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, has ordered the state board of elections to send every registered voter a voter card, one of the forms of identification the law honors.

"This significant step ensures that every Virginia voter is guaranteed to have at least one of the many different valid forms of ID required to be presented at the polls.

"The legislation I signed into law is a practical and reasonable step to make our elections more secure while also ensuring access to the ballot box for all qualified voters," McDonnell said.

Virginia is one of 16 states covered by the Voting Rights Act, which requires them to get federal approval before changing election procedures.  The Justice Department notified the state Monday night that it posed no objection to the new law.