Tuesday, 23 June 2015 00:00

Dems file suit on Virginia photo ID, other voting rules

Written by Travis Fain | Daily Press

Virginia Democrats asked the federal court system Thursday to overhaul state voting procedures, accusing the state's Republican leaders of purposefully rigging the system against young, minority and Democratic voters.

The suit particularly targets Virginia's 2013 voter ID law, dubbing it a GOP effort to stem state voting trends revealed during President Barack Obama's successful 2012 campaign. But attorneys also ask the court to come up with changes to cut down on election day wait times and to streamline voting rights restorations for felons who have served their time.

All these factors disproportionately affect black, Latino and poor voters who are more likely to vote Democratic, the suit charges. Aspects of the voter ID law disproportionately affect young people, and college area precincts are more likely to have long wait times, the suit states.

"The General Assembly, in enacting the voter ID law and failing to take action to prevent long wait times to vote from recurring, intended, at least in part, to suppress the number of votes cast by African Americans and Latinos," the suit states.

Speaker of the House William Howell said in a statement Thursday that this suit is an example of Democrats "seeking to manipulate the court system in order to benefit the Democratic Party."

"Public polling suggests that three-quarters of Virginians support our photo ID law because the measure just makes sense," Howell said.

The suit was filed Thursday in the U.S. Eastern District courthouse in Richmond and was assigned to Judge Henry E. Hudson, whom President George W. Bush appointed in 2002. The case was brought by the law firm Perkins Coie, which is also challenging the validity of legislative and congressional districts in Virginia.

The firm has deep Democratic ties and has challenged election regulations in a number of states. The New York Times reported earlier this month that billionaire Democratic donor George Soros has pledged up to $5 million toward the efforts.

The latest Virginia suit walks through generations of Virginia's racial history, starting with slavery and including a breakdown of race-based voting trends. The state has had one black governor, and never a black attorney general or U.S. senator, it notes. U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott is the only black member of congress since reconstruction, and he was only elected after the U.S. Department of Justice ordered Virginia to create a majority-black district, the suit states.

The argument is cumulative: The suit says Virginia's voting laws combine with the post-segregation realities of financial and educational differences to disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters.

More than half of the people who can't vote because of a past felony are black, the lawsuit states, and Virginia is one of a few states that requires the governor to restore that right on a case-by-case basis.

Long wait times are particularly troubling for poor and minority voters who are less likely to have flexible job schedules, or to be able to take time off work, the suit states.

"In other words, the General Assembly's decision not to take action to address long wait times to vote was made with the intent to suppress the vote of minorities, young voters, and Democrats," the suit states.

The suit doesn't suggest a definite fix for long election lines, but it asks the court to determine needed changes itself.

Obama won Virginia narrowly in 2012, but the suit states that he won 60 percent of the vote among 18- to 29-year-olds and more than 90 percent of the African-American and Latino vote. The Republican push on voter ID the next year was "designed to reduce disproportionately the turnout of these core Democratic constituencies and Democratic voters more broadly," the suit states.

The Republican Party of Virginia dismissed the suit Thursday as "spurious."

"Democrats are desperate to energize their base ahead of this year's legislative elections and the 2016 presidential contest," party chairman John Whitbeck said in a statement. "Today's lawsuit is nothing more than a costly fundraising pitch to the liberal base."

Link to original article from Daily Press


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