You no longer need a photo ID to vote in Virginia. What does that mean?

RADFORD — COVID-19 changed a few things when it comes to elections this year. Anyone can vote absentee and you can track mail-in ballots through some new technology. Those weren’t the only changes taking place this fall, however.

The state’s voter identification laws changed a lot over the past few months. With the 2020 presidential election right around the corner, some voters have questions. After the incident Saturday in Fairfax County, Dogwood received emails asking what kind of ID they need at the polls.

That’s where we can help. Here is a breakdown of Virginia’s voter ID requirements- what you’ll need, what has changed and why. 

Do I Need a Photo ID to Vote in Virginia?

No, you don’t. Thanks to a bill passed during the 2020 General Assembly session, Virginians are no longer required to use photo ID at the polls. In Feb., Gov. Ralph Northam signed HB 19 into law, reversing the state’s photo ID requirement from 2013. 

The law took effect on July 1. It also allows people who forgot their ID to still cast their vote. However, they’re still required to verify their identity. If a voter does not have a valid form of ID with them, they must sign an Identification Statement Affirming form.

“Someone who forgot their form of ID can sign this affidavit to confirm that they are who they say they are under the threat of perjury,” said Tracy Howard, the general registrar for Radford. If they sign this form, they’ll be issued a provisional ballot.

Voters can face up to 10 years in prison if caught lying on this form.

Why Was Voter Photo ID a Problem? 

Previously, Virginia was one of 18 states with a photo ID requirement. When former Gov. Bob McDonnell issued the mandate, conservatives claimed it would protect against attempted voter fraud. However, there’s little evidence to support this. In face, voter ID laws can discourage voters.

The requirement came under fire for excluding those who lack access to photo identification.  Del. Joe Lindsay, who proposed eliminating the photo ID mandate, said that the elderly, racial minorities, low-income individuals and disabled people are specifically vulnerable.

“Virginia’s photo ID law was designed to make it more difficult to vote,” said Del. Lindsay in April. “It is past time we repealed this law, and I’m grateful to the Governor for helping us get it done.”

The American Civil Liberties Union reported that 21 million US citizens do not have a photo ID. Nationally, 25 percent of Black voters lack a government-issued photo ID compared to only 8 percent of white voters. The ACLU attributes this to many problems, including structural racism.

Many photo IDs, including driver’s licenses, cost money to obtain. According to the ACLU, the combined costs for getting a photo ID can range from $75 to $175. However, Howard said it was the elderly who he saw mostly effected by the requirement.

“These people who had been voting for years all of a sudden couldn’t because they no longer had valid driver’s licenses,” said Howard.

“Before the photo ID requirement voters had to sign the affidavit to say they are who they say they are, and I think that was enough,” said House Majority Leader Del. Charniele Herring to WHSV. “I feel the photo ID was a way to suppress the vote because not everyone has one.”

What Kinds of Non-Photo Identification Can I Use at the Polls? 

According to Howard, there are countless other forms of identification that doesn’t involve photos. 

“You can use a utility bill, a bank statement. As long as it has your name and address, you can use it,” said Howard. You can also use a government check, pay check or a signed ID confirmation statement.

However, non-photo IDs are not your only option. You can also apply for a voter ID card if you give your social security number to an election worker at the polls.