By: Jakob Stalnaker
Voter ID legislation has become an intensely ideological issue. Traditionally, Republicans support such legislation, while Democrats tend to oppose it. Further, some Democratic states have innovated automatic voter registration, which automatically registers voters unless they choose to opt out of the voter rolls. In 2016, West Virginia passed compromise legislation which could prove to be a model for other states in the future. Conservative and liberal legislators passed an election law bill, HB 4013, which joined together automatic voter registration with a voter ID requirement. Further, the voter ID portion of the bill had a number of provisions which made it more palatable to traditional opponents, garnering the bill bipartisan support.
The voter ID portion of the HB 4013 does not require a photo identification. Instead, a wide range of non-photo identifications are permitted. These include a valid West Virginia driver’s license, a valid driver’s license issued by another state, a valid passport, a valid employee identification card with a photograph from any state, local, or federal agency, a college or high school ID, a military ID, a concealed carry permit, a Medicare or Social Security card, a birth certificate, or a hunting license. Additional options included in the bill are a voter registration card, a SNAP program ID, a TANF program ID, a Medicaid card, a bank or debit card, a utility bill or bank statement less than 6 months old, or a valid health insurance card. The forms of identification available are wide-ranging, and the particular emphasis on social welfare identifications may have made this requirement more palatable to voter ID opponents. Further, in lieu of a voter providing one of these IDs, that voter can be accompanied by an adult who has known the voter for six months to vouch for the voter’s identity at the polls. A poll worker who has known the voter for six months can vouch for the voter’s identity as well. Both of these voucher option require the vouching adult to sign an affidavit.
Article 2 of HB 4013 allows for the automatic voter registration of West Virginia residents at Departments of Motor Vehicles throughout the state. Residents can affirmatively choose to opt out of registration.
The conference agreement passed 26 to 8 in the West Virginia Senate, and passed 77 to 21 in the West Virginia House of Delegates. This bipartisan support is starkly different than the normal discussion around voter ID and automatic registration. The flexibility of the voter identification requirement is undoubtedly why the compromise was reached, with many Democrats supporting the legislation.
The legislative development of automatic voter registration and voter ID in West Virginia presents a potential opportunity to other states. Conservative desire to implement some sort of identification to ensure secure elections can be paired with the progressive goal of expanding access to voting through automatic registration. In doing so, legislatures can develop laws that are less one-sided and have political buy-in from the full ideological spectrum.