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Labor protests voter ID proposal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, and other labor leaders hosted a rally at the Culture Center at the state Capitol grounds Wednesday to fight efforts they say would make it more difficult for some people -- especially poor and older individuals -- to vote in elections.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin spoke at the rally against efforts to require all voters to have government-issued photo identification cards.

Union members and supporters packed the Culture Center's main lobby during the "Stop Voter Suppression" rally.

Proponents say that voter ID laws are intended to combat voter fraud.

Some Republican leaders in the House of Delegates had previously hoped to introduce legislation requiring photo identification at polling places. Josh Sword, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, said Wednesday he's knows of two bills that have been introduced but neither has generated much discussion.   

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said, "I am dead set against voter ID requirements. I will oppose each and every bill that tries to stop anyone from going into a voting booth."

Kessler said he has heard of no recent "instances in this state where people were trying to vote illegally. There are no examples. If there are no problems, we don't need any solutions. I won't support any legislation that makes it more difficult to vote."

Kessler mentioned Citizens United, the January 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing individuals to make unlimited political donations, sometimes millions of dollars, to election campaigns. Citizens United also often allows individuals to keep their identities hidden.

"Tell them to overturn Citizens United," Kessler said. "Some individuals spend millions to influence how you vote and they won't tell you who they are."

Secretary of State Natalie Tenant previously stated she knows of no recent cases where anyone has fraudulently impersonated another individual to cast an illegal vote in a primary or general election in West Virginia.

Tomblin said, "Voting is a right we have to cherish in this country. I am very proud of encouraging people to get out to vote."

Tomblin praised recently passed "early voting" legislation that makes it "more convenient for [many people] to get out and vote."

New photo ID requirements, Tomblin believes, could make it more difficult for men and women serving in the military to cast their votes.

"I want to make sure their votes are counted," he said.

Perdue said, "Requiring photo IDs also creates financial burdens for states. We will not back up. Every person has the right to vote. ... Say no to voter suppression."

West Virginians are already finding it more difficult to update or renew their drivers' licenses at Division of Motor Vehicles offices.

Sword said on Wednesday, "You need five documents: three documents proving where you live, your Social Security card or [Internal Revenue Service] W-2 form and a birth certificate."

Sword believes the "other side" in this debate "will target some of the battleground states" in requiring government-approved photo ID cards.

"In West Virginia, the proposed [election] bill would require photo IDs. This will hit older people the hardest. West Virginia has the second-oldest population in the country.

"And how about homeless veterans? They could not even cast a ballot."

Sword predicts that if photo ID legislation were enacted, "103,000 people would be ineligible to cast a ballot ... unless they update or renew their IDs."

Many older people without drivers' licenses, Sword added, " have no other worldly use for photo IDs at this stage in their lives."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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