Richmond, VA -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is sending today a memo to every voter registrar in the First Congressional District, where a special election will be held tomorrow to elect a replacement for Rep. Jo Ann Davis, who recently passed away. The memo asks registrars to make certain that poll workers inform voters that they are permitted to vote even if they are not carrying any form of identification with them.
Under Virginia law, individuals may vote even when they cannot produce any form of paper ID. In these instances, voters merely need to sign an Affirmation of Identity form. The form does not allow unregistered voters to cast ballots, but if a voter is properly registered he or she merely needs to affirm his or her identity in order to vote. Using a false identity under such circumstances is a felony.
“Virginia law is fair regarding voter identification,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director. “It requires an ID if you have one, but it does not penalize if you don’t. This protects those rare individuals who do not have IDs, who have lost or had their IDs stolen, and even those who simply forgot to bring their IDs to the polls.”
“The problem is that poll workers often mislead voters into believing they must have an ID to vote,” added Willis, “and that’s simply not true.”
“We’ve received complaints from people who were sent home to get an ID, and we’ve heard from people who were told outright that they could not vote.”
The ACLU believes that at least some of the problem is unintentional. Poll workers often ask people to have their IDs ready so they can obtain a ballot, but they neglect to tell voters of the alternative.
Some states have attempted to revise their laws in recent years to require IDs, but such laws have been struck down as an unconstitutional restriction of voting.
While some maintain that IDs are needed to prevent voter fraud, the ACLU points out that, at least in recent years, voter fraud is almost never committed by individual voters. On the contrary, fraud is almost always perpetrated by the individuals who count the votes.
The ACLU’s memo to registrars follows.
Voter Registrars in the First Congressional
FROM: Kent Willis, Executive Director
DATE: December 10, 2007
RE: Voter Identification Requirements
I am writing to ask you to remind poll workers prior to tomorrow’s special election in the First Congressional District to be clear with voters that they may vote in Virginia even if they are not carrying any identification with them. As you know, such voters only need to sign an Affirmation of Identity form.
During recent elections, including those held in November 2007, the primary complaint received by the ACLU of Virginia was from voters who were misled by poll workers into believing they needed identification in order to vote. Whether intentional or not, poll workers – and occasionally signs posted in polling places – cause voters to believe that they must have an approved form of identification with them in order to be able to vote.
We do not pretend that our information on this subject has been collected in a manner that is statistically valid, but overwhelming anecdotal evidence points to poll workers as the main source of the problem. It appears that poll workers often tell voters they must produce identification in order to vote, but do not inform them of the alternative unless pressed by voters, most of whom are not aware that they may vote without producing an ID.
Please tell your poll workers that if they plan to tell voters waiting in line to “have their IDs ready” to also add that they may vote without an ID by signing the Affirmation of Identity form. This will avoid much confusion.
I thank you for your attention.