Politics

West Virginia Pushes Bill That Could Make Its Dismal Voter Turnout Even Worse

CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

A voter shows his driver's license at a Madison, Miss., precinct, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.

A controversial bill that would require West Virginians to show valid photo identification at the polls is making its way through the state’s Republican-led Legislature, and opponents say it’s likely to advance within the next few months.

On Thursday, the West Virginia House’s judiciary committee passed HB4013, which would require voters to show one of several types of photo ID cards before voting. The bill passed along party lines, with the committee’s 15 Republicans voting for it and the 8 Democrats voting against.

In the scheme of other voter ID laws, West Virginia’s proposal is not particularly strict. For example, while some states’ laws don’t allow people to vote at all without proper identification, West Virginia’s would allow people to vote on provisional ballots if they forget or don’t have ID. They could also have a poll worker or friend sign an affidavit for them, vouching that they are who they say they are.

Map

CREDIT: NCSL.org

Despite its relatively non-strict nature, anti-voter ID advocates in West Virginia are speaking out against the bill, arguing it would only serve to suppress voting in a state with already-dismal turnout. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, West Virginia ranked second to last for voter participation during the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections. And while researchers have found it difficult to figure out how one law can effect something as big as turnout, several studies have found that voter ID laws generally reduce turnout by about two or three percent.

“[The voter ID bill is] trying to address a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Julie Archer, the project manager at West Virginia Citizen Action Group. “There’s no documented cases of people going to the polls and pretending they’re other people.”

Indeed, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy describes voter fraud as “virtually nonexistent” in the state. It explains that voter ID laws only prevent “voter impersonation” — someone pretending to be someone else — and that there have been no reported cases of voter impersonation in West Virginia since 2000.

“If there is a problem with voting in West Virginia, it is that not enough people exercise their right,” the center wrote.

Still, Archer told ThinkProgress that the bill is likely to move quickly through the state’s House of Delegates. “I feel pretty certain it’s going to pass,” she said.

Gary Zuckett, West Virginia Citizen Action Group’s executive director, agreed. He explained that voter ID is generally a Republican-led issue, and West Virginia has a majority Republican makeup of both its House of Delegates and its Senate. Though the state has a Democratic governor, Zuckett also explained that West Virginia only requires a majority in both the House and Senate to override a governor’s veto.

“They’ve got sort of carte blanche at the moment,” Zuckett said, referring to the state’s Republican lawmakers. “There’s no checks and balances with the Republicans here in West Virginia.”

If the bill becomes law, West Virginia would be the 34th state with a voter ID provision in effect. Thirty-six states have actually passed laws requiring voters to show some form of ID at the polls, but three of those are on hold, pending court challenges. Multiple provisions of voter ID laws across the country have been struck down by courts who note that the laws disenfranchise minority voters.

West Virginia is also not the only state considering voter ID. In Missouri, lawmakers are considering a bill that would require voters to present a form of government-issued photo identification at the polls. And in Wisconsin — which already has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country — lawmakers are debating a proposal to stop local governments from issuing or spending money on photo identification cards.