RICHMOND, Va. (CBSDC/AP) — A bitter partisan dispute over Republican bills that would place new burdens on voting grew more passionate on Tuesday as black leaders compared the measures Jim Crow-era voter suppression and accused the GOP of intending to “lynch democracy.”
Democrats and minorities used a rally on the Capitol lawn and debate on the House Floor to criticize the measures favored by the Legislature’s all-white GOP majority that would put more restrictions on voter registration efforts and require voters to take photo identification to the polls.
Republicans strongly disputed the notion that the bills were meant to cast the Commonwealth back into pre-1965 voting practices. Instead of suppressing voting, the party says that they are intended to cut down on fraud in a presidential election year with Virginia targeted as a battleground by both parties.
The chairwoman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus accused the GOP of voter suppression.
About 300 people on the Capitol lawn applauded passionate speeches Tuesday. Black legislative leaders and former NAACP executive director Benjamin Chavis decried the legislation as “arrogant bills by arrogant politicians.”
On the House floor less than two hours later, Del. Mark Cole’s photo ID voting requirement advanced on a mostly party line 66-28 vote. A vote on final House passage is scheduled for Wednesday. The bill requires any voter who fails to bring photo identification to voting precincts to cast a provisional ballot. That ballot would be counted the next day only after the voter’s qualifications are verified.
Cole said the measure is intended to cut down on in-person voter fraud. But Cole couldn’t cite any instances of voters using fake names to cast ballots when challenged by Del. Joe Morrissey, D-Henrico.
Two Democrats, Johnny Joannou of Portsmouth and Joe Johnson of Washington County, voted with the House GOP majority, and two Democrats, Lynwood Lewis of Accomack and Jennifer McClellan of Richmond, did not vote.
Before the vote, 74-year-old Del. Algie T. Howell, D-Norfolk, spoke emotionally of the impediments his grandfather, with only a 3rd-grade education, endured voting in the era of Jim Crow. He called Cole’s bill a throwback to that era.
Republicans took umbrage at the comparisons to the days when black voter suppression was institutionalized in Virginia and elsewhere.
“(I) just want to slow this down a little bit,” Del. David Albo said, unsmiling and speaking in deliberate and measured tones in responding to Howell. “Some things have been said on the floor talking about something other than what this bill does. This bill does not deny a single person the right to vote.”
In an ideal world where every voter has a photo ID or isn’t frightened off by the necessity of a provisional ballot, perhaps that’s true, black legislators said. But Del. Charnielle Herring, D-Alexandria and a member of the Black Caucus, said at the morning rally that the photo IDs many people take for granted are not commonplace among the poor, minorities, the elderly and students.
That struck a nerve with 74-year-old Andrew Jackson of Virginia Beach, who entered the Navy in 1955 and fought in the Korean War at a time when he could not vote back home in Virginia.
In the Senate later Tuesday afternoon, a Republican-dominated committee advanced a companion measure to Cole’s on a party line 8-7 vote. The panel also took up several other measures, including one which would end Virginia’s open primary law and require voters for the first time to register by party affiliation to take part in primaries
(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)