RICHMOND, Va. — The Democratic Party of Virginia argued before a federal appeals court on Thursday that its ruling blocking North Carolina’s voter identification law should also apply to Virginia’s, since Republican lawmakers in their state also sought to suppress voting by minorities and young people.
Bruce Spiva, an attorney for Virginia Democrats, told a three judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that state’s law requiring people to show photo identification at the polls was passed for a single purpose: to make it more difficult for blacks, Latinos and young people to vote.
“The same Legislature that passed the voter ID law is the same Legislature that was found to have racially gerrymandered its districts,” Spiva added, referring to 4th Circuit’s ruling that Virginia Republicans packed too many black voters in one congressional district to make adjacent districts safer for GOP incumbents.
Much of Thursday’s debate centered on how Virginia’s law — and the facts surrounding its implementation — differ from North Carolina’s.
The North Carolina law not only required voters to produce a photo ID, but scrapped same-day registration and shortened early voting periods. The ruling striking it down said the law targeted black voters with “almost surgical precision” and did nothing to prevent potential voter fraud.
An attorney for the Virginia Department of Elections stressed Thursday that the Virginia law, which a federal judge upheld in May after finding no evidence of discriminatory intent, is quite different. Attorney Thor Hearne II said the list of IDs Virginians can use is “very generous” compared to other states, in that it includes those from places like private colleges.
Hearne noted that the court found North Carolina had asked for data on voting practices broken down by race while examining the bill. North Carolina’s law was also passed shortly after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed the requirement that many Southern states receive federal approval before changing voting laws. Virginia’s law was passed before the Supreme Court case was decided.
Judge Dennis Shedd asked whether the 4th Circuit should simply return the case to the district court in light of its decision in the North Carolina case, and questioned whether the judge “missed the forest for the trees” when he found Virginia’s law constitutional.
Virginians have had to show some form of identification to vote for decades, but until 2012, people without an ID were still allowed to cast a ballot if they signed a form swearing they’re the person they claimed to be.
A 2012 law scrapped the affirmation of identity option, but allowed voters to use certain non-photo IDs. A year later, the GOP-controlled General Assembly passed the law requiring photo IDs.
Virginians can obtain free photo IDs at voter registrar offices, but Democrats claim few people know about that option because the state has done little to spread the word.
Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/alanna-durkin-richer .