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A Va. voter photo ID bill dies, another survives

Wednesday - 1/30/2013, 2:28am  ET

AP Political Writer

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Senate committee advanced one bill Tuesday that would force Virginia voters to take photo identification to the polls, while a House panel effectively killed a similar measure.

The Senate Privileges and Elections Committee voted 7-6 to move a bill by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, to the floor of the full Senate later this week.

With a 7-7 vote, however, the committee killed a separate Obenshain bill that would have paired voters' digital photographs with other information about them on the computerized poll books that election workers use at polling precincts to verify a voter's identity.

Opponents of both bills warned of the difficulty of obtaining photos of all voters _ especially of the elderly who don't drive or have electronic photos in the Department of Motor Vehicles files. And they also warned of the costs involved in replacing the IDs as voters change in appearance over the years.

But supporters note that photo identification is required for any number of transactions in modern America and the inconvenience is worth it to safeguard against election fraud.

During sometimes-chaotic debate toward the end of a four-hour committee marathon, Democratic Sen. A. Donald McEachin noted an omission in the bill that would have gotten it struck down by a federal court.

McEachin, D-Henrico, noted that the measure lacked any provision specifying that voters who lacked photo identification would not have to pay for a new one. Courts have stuck down laws elsewhere that forced voters to pay for photo identification cards, calling them illegal poll taxes.

Obenshain remedied the problem by inserting the words "for free" into the bill.

Though the measure cleared the committee by one vote, its fate is uncertain in the full Senate, where Democrats and Republicans each hold 20 seats. One Republican on the committee, Sen. Jill Vogel of Fauquier, a former election attorney for the Republican National Committee, voted against it.

Democrats are unified in their opposition.

In an early-morning House subcommittee meeting, Del. Rob Bell's photo- identification bill was rolled into another measure that tightens the voter- identification law passed just a year ago. That bill eliminates several forms of ID now considered acceptable, including current utility bills or paycheck stubs bearing the voter's name and address.

A Senate bill the committee killed on an 11-4 vote would have altered Virginia's winner-take-all method of apportioning its 13 electoral votes in presidential elections. Sen. Charles W. Carrico's bill would have divvied electors up proportionately according to the percentage of popular vote.

Originally, Carrico's bill would have awarded electors by Virginia's 11 congressional districts, giving one electoral vote for every district won. The two at-large electors would have gone to the candidate who won a majority of the congressional districts.

Under Carrico's original electoral reshuffle bill, President Barack Obama would have won only four electoral votes in Virginia last fall to Republican Mitt Romney's nine, even though Obama won the popular by about 150,000 votes statewide. Under the revision Carrico offered the committee Tuesday, Romney would have taken only eight Virginia electors to Obama's five.

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