Democrats Dealt Blow in Virginia Voter ID Ruling

by | May 20, 2016

By Travis Fain

A federal judge upheld Virginia's voter I.D. law Thursday, saying the state's Democratic Party failed to show that it targets minority voters.

The law has created "a layer of inconvenience for voters," but that, "appears to affect all voters equally," U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson wrote in his 62-page opinion.

Hudson, a George W. Bush appointee, also wrote that none of the 12 voters who testified during the case's seven-day, non-jury trial, "was actually denied his or her right to vote."

"Admittedly, for some, the process was cumbersome," Hudson wrote, but that's not enough to declare Virginia's law unconstitutional on any of the arguments presented. The judge also noted that Virginians can register to vote online and that photo IDs are available for free.

The loss is a blow for Democratic Party attorneys fighting GOP-authored election laws, and districts, in a number of states. Lead attorney Marc Elias said in an email that his team is reviewing its options, including an expedited appeal.

Speaker of the House William Howell called the decision "a victory for the integrity of Virginia's elections and the three-quarters of Virginians who support our commonsense law." He criticized the Democratic Party of Virginia and Elias, who is also presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's general counsel for bringing "a politically motivated lawsuit."

Elias' firm, Perkins Coie, brought not only this case, but a pair of redistricting cases against the state. Bruce V. Spiva, a Perkins Coie attorney involved in Virginia's case, is in Wisconsin this week for a trial in a similar lawsuit there.

The speaker also had harsh words Thursday for Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring, who brought in outside counsel to defend the state against this suit. That has cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Department of Motor Vehicles filed a motion this week, asking Hudson to force payment of $30,000 to cover costs associated with a subpoena that covered more than 43 million department records.

The suit, filed last summer by the Democratic Party of Virginia and two voters -- one black, one Latino -- was initially much broader, alleging that an undercurrent of racism was at play in a number of Virginia election practices. The bulk of that suit was thrown out, though Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe's Department of Elections agreed to several steps meant to address long election day lines.

Long lines have more effect on poorer voters, the suit argued, who can't afford time off work.

In his opinion Thursday, Hudson agreed with the plaintiffs that there is little reason to believe that in-person voter fraud, the supposed reason behind enacting voter ID laws, is anything but rare. Evidence shows a widespread perception, though, that fraud is a legitimate concern, and photo ID laws are a reasonable way to address citizen confidence in elections, Hudson wrote.

Democrats had argued that voter ID was about Republicans seeking a "tactical advantage," since minority, elderly and college student voters are less likely to have ID and more likely to vote Democratic. Hudson found " no evidence to elevate this impression beyond suspicion."

"Even assuming ... that a single Republican senator had a latent motive to effect minority vote, such motive could not on the record at hand be imputed to the other Republican senators," Hudson wrote. "How many affirmative voters would be necessary to prove that a legislative body adopted a measure with discriminatory objective? That question remains unanswered!"

The Democratic Party of Virginia stuck to its argument Thursday, saying Republicans passed voter ID "the sole purpose of making it more difficult to vote."

An appeal would go to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where North Carolina's voter ID law is already before the court. North Carolina's law is more strict than Virginia's, and if it's upheld by the 4th Circuit, than it's very likely Virginia's will be as well, according to Rick Hasen, a California law professor who follows these cases.

With various other suits pending and plaintiffs finding "mixed success" challenging voter ID laws, the matter may eventually be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court, Hasen said.

(c)2016 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)