CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Candidates running to represent Kanawha County's 36th House of Delegates district clashed over whether the state should enact voter identification laws during a meeting with the Daily Mail editorial board.
Democratic incumbent Danny Wells said voter ID laws were a Republican attempt to suppress minority voters, while Republicans said requiring proof of identity to vote was a reasonable measure.
Four of the six candidates met with the editorial board Wednesday.
The district is one of two carved out of the former seven-member 30th District during last year's redistricting. It covers eastern and southern portions of the county, along with some areas around Charleston.
Wells and fellow Democrats Nancy Guthrie and Mark Hunt currently have 30th District seats and are running again. Guthrie declined an invitation to attend Wednesday's meeting. Hunt could not attend due to a previously scheduled event.
Republican challengers Robin Holstein, Steve Sweeney and Stevie Thaxton all own small businesses in the Kanawha Valley.
Wells and the three Republicans sharply divided over the issue of voter ID.
Holstein, Sweeney and Thaxton all said asking voters to produce an ID would be a reasonable requirement.
But Wells said the issue was being driven by partisan politics.
"It's my opinion, that the voter ID is a calculated effort mainly by Republicans to make it harder for blacks and other groups of people to vote," Wells said.
That accusation drew a strong rebuke from Holstein.
"I categorically reject the idea that I'm a racist for supporting a voter ID," she said.
Holstein said people must have ID to sign up for social programs like the Women, Infants and Children program, Social Security or Medicare, so she didn't feel it would be a burden.
Wells said he didn't mean voter ID advocates were racists. He said voter ID requirements were a Republican tool to keep African Americans, seniors and other minorities — who tend to vote for Democrats — from voting.
He said the issue was largely a national one and being driven by "by more important Republicans than Robin."
Sweeney and Thaxton spoke in favor of requiring voter IDs, saying they commonly have to produce their ID for retail transactions. Sweeney said he recently had to show a photo ID to return something to the Lowe's home improvement store.
Thaxton said he has to show his ID to buy snuff. He also said many places ask patrons to show an ID to purchase alcoholic beverages.
Wells said that was different.
"I don't mind that at all," Wells said. "What's a big deal about getting the proof of your age out of your pocket?"
But he said providing an ID to vote would be a burden. He also said a voter ID requirement would not have stopped recent absentee ballot fraud in Lincoln County.