Secretary of State prepares for voter ID bill push
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - After 35 days of the legislative session, there's been more talk in the West Virginia House of Delegates on guns and pepperoni rolls than voter identification laws.
With several bills before both legislative chambers, though, that could change at any minute, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said.
"The way I look at it is, in the beginning, even before the session started, I read in the paper and I was asked questions when folks were saying that this was going to be their priority bill," Tennant said Wednesday. "When this was something to add burdens, to add more restrictions, more burdens to voters, that was going to be their priority."
Earlier this week, Tennant announced the creation of a "nonpartisan voting rights protection coalition." The coalition intends to combat any legislation aimed at keeping people from the polls, she said.
Members of the AFL-CIO, ACLU, League of Women Voters, AARP and others joined Tennant during the press conference. The entire event was spent discussing the potential harm of requiring photo identification be shown in order to vote.
In a written statement distributed at the event, Tennant said the local effort was the result of national Republican groups "looking for solutions where there are not problems."
The chairmen of both the Senate and House judiciary committees said Wednesday they don't foresee any voter ID measures coming before them anytime soon.
"No, there are some other issues we've got to get through this session before we tackle that, and there's not another election until a year from now," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo said he thought he had heard the House was going to do something with the measure this session. There's been little talk about the topic on the Senate side, and he doesn't anticipate it coming up in the near future.
Voter identification was a part of the state GOP legislative agenda, and Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, mentioned the topic leading up to the session.
But so far, there are three bills before the House and Senate that specifically propose involving photo ID in the voting process. None has received any attention at the committee level.
Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, is the sponsor of a bill that would require voter ID cards to also contain the holder's photograph.
"Well, if they're saying there are no real cases of voter fraud, then show me that there are no real cases of disenfranchisement of voters then," Householder said recently.
"If you're opposed to using your driver's license, then what better way than to require your photo ID on your voter ID card? It's just another tool, another protection for the poll worker to say, 'That's that person voting,' " he said.
There are no details of the financial impact of such a measure included with the bill. Householder said he doesn't see it as a "real big cost issue." If someone needs photo ID to buy alcohol, or a police officer asks to see photo identification, it should be a tool to prevent voter impersonation, Householder argued.
Last week, the left-leaning West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy issued a report stating it could cost more than $5 million over five years to implement a law requiring photo identification to vote.
The report estimates 11 percent of eligible voters lack a photo ID, and it costs the state Division of Motor Vehicles $7.60 to produce one photo ID. If the state is required to provide those identifications free of charge, that translates to more than $1.2 million, according to the report.
There are no recorded problems with voter impersonation, Tennant said during her press event this week. Any photo ID requirement would not have stopped the Lincoln County absentee voter fraud scheme either, she said.
Just because a bill is languishing in a committee doesn't mean it can't suddenly fall on the fast track, Tennant said.
"Understanding the rules of the House and the rules of the Senate are a part of the game," Tennant said. "And so just because something is not introduced in the committee doesn't mean there might not be an attempt to have it introduced otherwise, and so with that, I want to make sure there is education."
In both the House and Senate, a majority vote of members present is required to remove a bill from committee and bring it before the full body. The bill must have been before the committee for five legislative days on the House side before delegates can vote to bring it to the full chamber, House Clerk Gregory Gray said.
That rule doesn't apply after the 50th day of the session, though, he said.
The move is rare but has been used. Most recently, House Republicans tried the move relating to the sales tax on groceries in 2011. It failed 50-26, but the GOP has picked up 11 seats since that vote.