RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Gov. Bob McDonnell has signed legislation into law that will require voters to carry photo identification with them to the polls, starting next year in Virginia.
Virginia joins four other states that have strict photo ID requirements in place for elections, an action Democrats decried as a Jim Crow-era tactic to suppress the votes of the elderly, minorities and the underprivileged.
"This is merely a continuation of attempts by Republicans to suppress the vote of individuals who are not likely to support their right-wing agenda. I guess it's true that if you can't win elections the right way, cheat," said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton and chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
Republican majorities in the Virginia House and Senate pushed the bill to passage one year after a more modest GOP-sponsored voter identification law failed to prevent President Barack Obama from winning Virginia for the second presidential election in a row and a Democratic U.S. Senate victory.
Republicans who backed the measure say the bill is a necessity to prevent voter fraud and point to the ease of fabricating some forms of acceptable voter ID using widely available computer equipment and software.
The legislation provides for a free valid ID with the bearer's photo to any registered voter who lacks one.
Along with signing the legislation, McDonnell issued an executive order directing the State Board of Elections to implement a public education program to tell voters about the new requirement before the 2014 congressional and U.S. Senate elections.
Other states with strict photo ID requirements are Georgia, Indiana, Tennessee and Kansas. Mississippi, Texas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have passed similar measures, but they have not taken effect either because of adverse court rulings or pending Justice Department approval.