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Local News in Virginia

Challenge Suit To Voter Photo ID Underway In Richmond

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

Lorraine C. Minnite, who has written two books on voter fraud, recently testified in the ongoing lawsuit that is challenging Virginia’s 2013 voting law that requires photo IDs.

According to news reports, the lawsuit was filed last June by The Democratic Party of Virginia. It alleges the Republican majorities in the Virginia House and Senate enacted the law to restrict the type of identification that is required at the ballot box. Part of a national strategy by Democrats to remove what they say are barriers to voting by African-American, Latino and poor voters, the suit began in federal court on Feb. 22.

On the third day, Minnite testified. She is the author of “The Myth of Voter Fraud” and co-author of “Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters.” She said the sort of fraud that photo ID is meant to prevent rarely occurs.
“If there is no voter fraud, the question is, what is this all about? … Why are the two parties fighting so intensely?” asked Minnite, a witness for the plaintiffs, including the Democratic Party of Virginia. Minnite contends parties can win by expanding their own base or by decreasing the other party’s.

“It goes to the logic and the strategy of trying to win elections,” she said.
Minnite, the last witness to testify on Feb. 22, was cross-examined by Mark F. Hearne II, a defense lawyer, and conceded there is some voter fraud. “I never say, ‘No, it never happens.’” But, she added, “it’s rare.”

During testimony, Minnite referred to a chart showing federal indictments for various crimes over a one-year period which showed that in the 2004 election 120 million votes were cast; but there were just 60 cases of voter fraud nationwide.

Hearne, however, pointed out that the same chart showed 781 indictments for tax fraud and asked if she believed that was a true indicator of the amount of tax fraud committed by hundreds of millions of taxpayers. She said no, but added she has other data showing voter fraud is rare.
Referring to earlier testimony that said a dog was registered to vote in another state, Hearne asked, “Would requiring an ID prevent the dog from voting?”

Generating chuckles in the courtroom, Minnite responded, “I would hope, if a dog walked into a polling place.”
The statute requiring photo ID was passed in 2013 and signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s Republican predecessor, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, according to the Washington Post. The state must defend its voter-ID law. To defend against the lawsuit, Attorney General Mark Herring (D) appointed an independent counsel, Mark F. “Thor” Hearne II, who represented the 2004 reelection campaign of then-President George W. Bush.

Democrats and two other plaintiffs allege, among other things, that the 2013 voting law requiring photo identification was enacted by the Republican-controlled Virginia legislature in response to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election.
Other witnesses who testified earlier were state Sen. Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax, and Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond.
Surovell, who served three terms in the House of Delegates before he was elected to the Senate last year, said he opposed the legislation because it was not needed.

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“I felt like this was a solution in search of a problem,” he testified.
Surovell said proponents could not cite any documented cases of someone being prosecuted or convicted for impersonating someone else at the polls, “just generalized suspicion.”

McClellan, who is African-American, said the voting-age population of her district is 56 percent African-American. She testified that she was concerned about the ability of some of her constituents who do not have driver licenses, student identification or other photo ID to vote.
“I take very seriously any bill that I think will imperil an individual’s right to vote,” she said.

Testimony on the first day included a 69-year-old woman who grew up in a small, segregated town. She wept on the witness stand as she testified about the trouble she had voting in the 2014 election in Virginia.
Josephine Okiakpe (oh-KEEF’) said that she produced several forms of identification, but did not have a photo ID that was considered acceptable under the 2013 law that is being challenged by the Democratic Party of Virginia. She cried as she recalled others looking at her and snickering, leaving her upset and frustrated.

She was given a provisional ballot, which ultimately was counted, but said the experience undermined her confidence in the way Virginia conducts elections.
The verdict will not affect the state’s March 1 primaries.

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